In Part One, I explained that despite its worthy intentions, the One Percent Challenge does not satisfy the test of a specific and measurable goal, advocating that Southern Baptists pick a number high enough to meet our ministry obligations and promote it so our churches might measure themselves against it and determine if they are paying their fair share. I also dismissed the notion that setting such a true target (rather than a minor directional change) would in any way violate the autonomy of any local church. In Part Two, I separate Cooperative Program giving goals from leadership requirements and expose the fallacy of pitting missions dollars against missions percentages.
Let’s Not Make This Personal
I confess that I used to think Cooperative Program percentages should be a litmus test for leadership. Why follow someone whose church is not a model for others? Why reward with a leadership position someone who is not acting in a way that, if emulated by the rest of the convention, would result in a healthy denomination? Specifically, why elect a megachurch pastor whose church gives 1-5% through the Cooperative Program? That percentage is below average. If every church followed his lead, we would decline even further than we already have. Why send such a message to our convention?
The first reason is that we may not have much of a choice. With a convention average of about 5.6%, some leaders will be above that threshold, but many will fall below. My hope and prayer is that those whose Cooperative Program giving is bringing down our average would not justify themselves, but agree that setting a higher, specific and measurable goal is a worthy endeavor. Who among us would be so small as to set only such specific and measurable goals as we ourselves are already achieving? I admit my church is two percentage points off my own proposed goal for SBC Church Budgeted CP Giving in 2014 with plans to be one percentage point off in 2015.
The second reason for separating this percentage goal from leadership positions is that a Pastor is not a church. Congregations vote as a whole on their budgets. Perhaps there is a Finance Team in place controlling that amount. Perhaps the church carries major debt from a previous minister’s tenure that must be retired. Perhaps there are local ministries that have been temporarily prioritized. Perhaps a major business has closed and the church is facing a financial crisis of severe proportions. Perhaps, in the case of megachurches, there are unusual overhead costs associated with expansion, or there are specific mission projects being funded in a societal manner. Whatever the case, it is unfair to hold one man responsible for the missions support level of the entire church.
The third reason we should avoid linking a denomination-wide Cooperative Program Church Percentage Goal to leadership qualifications is the most pragmatic of all. Like it or not, the Southern Baptist Convention has a long standing tradition of electing our leadership from the Pastors of our largest churches. Our best known ministers have name recognition and preaching skills inspiring trust and confidence. Lesser known leaders have generally proven unelectable. Thus, if this strategy to fix the Cooperative Program is to have any chance of success at all, it absolutely requires one thing—a Megachurch Pastor big enough to admit that his church’s CP percentage is too small.
Rather than merely promoting a direction (“Give a little more, folks!”) he must have the courage to pick a number and say, “All of us should follow my example and commit ourselves to increasing our Cooperative Program giving until we reach (fill in the blank) percent!”
I can forgive a leader for falling short of a truly God-sized goal. I cannot forgive him for setting a goal so small that its achievement would not solve our problem anyway.
The Language of Dollars and Percentages
Another needless distraction in this debate concerns the pitting of raw financial data (expressed in dollars) with comparative financial data (expressed in percentages) as if these were two different concepts rather than the same concept expressed in differing units. One might commonly hear this unfortunate claim: “We don’t pay for missions with PERCENTAGES—we pay for missions with DOLLARS!”
Pitting dollars against percentages is illogical, for dollars are units of measure while percentages are numeric expressions. In the following verse, Jesus clearly prefers the use of numerical percentages over the use of numerical figures when it comes to comparing the offering of mites: So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.” (Luke 21:3-4)
Although the wealthy gave larger gifts when measured in raw numerical terms, Jesus considered this woman’s two mites to be of considerably greater value than the gifts of the rich. Please note that Jesus never contrasted percentages with mites. He contrasted percentages of mites with raw numbers of mites. The mites are present in both cases. “All the livelihood that she had” (which is to say, 100% of her livelihood) is not contrasted with “mites” but with the unspecified offerings of the rich out of their abundance. The widow with two mites gave one hundred percent of her mites. Whether we speak about numbers of dollars or percentages of dollars, we are still talking dollars.
If a rich man from a rich church with a twenty million dollar budget says, “We gave one million dollars through the Cooperative Program last year,” his one million dollars is five percent of the dollars. If a poor man from a poor church with a fifty thousand dollar budget says, “We gave five thousand dollars through the Cooperative Program last year,” his five thousand dollars is ten percent of the dollars. Since ten percent is greater than five percent, the five thousand dollars is greater than the one million dollars. Since Jesus looks at the percentages, we should do the same thing. Yes, dollars pay for missions, but higher percentages of dollars pay for a greater level of missions.
To whom much was given, of him much will be required. (Luke 12:48) The concept of “equal sacrifice, but not equal gifts|” is well established. We do well to honor this principle with our actions, rather than undermining it with our rationalizations. When we place greater value on raw figures than percentages, our practice is clearly not the same as that utilized by Jesus.
In Part Three, I take issue with two divisive practices—direct societal appeals by our agencies and support channel circumvention by our churches. Such approaches cut off at the knees the very missions funding strategy rightly considered to be our greatest Southern Baptist contribution. Simply put, they attack our cooperation by excluding the smaller church. While every SBC church can participate in the Cooperative Program, only the largest can participate in certain special projects. Although such practices are not uncooperative, they are nevertheless non-cooperative. It is not that they are failing to do anything at all. It is simply that the manner in which they are doing what they do necessarily excludes smaller churches who are willing but unable to cooperate in that manner. For the sake of a common strategy and approach, let us abandon practices that we cannot do together in favor of practices that we can.