Paul Chitwood, Chairman of the International Mission Board is wrong. The International Mission Board (IMB) is in a financial crises, and Chitwood has proposed a solution to the problem. He suggests that the Cooperative Program (CP) formula should be changed so more CP money, in terms of percentage, goes to the IMB.
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 IMB in the last three years than I. Our church has four couples serving through the IMB, as well as several journeymen. We increased our CP giving by 5 percent last year, and it was my privilege to visit five of the 11 overseas regional IMB headquarters in the past four years. There are several reasons why changing the formula for the CP is not the solution to the fiscal problems facing the IMB. At the risk of upsetting a few who were my advocates while I served as a trustee of the IMB from 2005-2008, I feel it is incumbent to share why I believe 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 CP. 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 IMB already has the largest single offering within the Southern Baptist Convention: “The Lottie Moon Offering.” More than half the budget for the IMB ($150 million) comes from Lottie. No other Southern Baptist entity comes even close to having that kind of revenue stream.
• (3). At some point, the IMB is going to have to address the dysfunction that occurs in terms of strategic planning, communication and implementation of core changes within the IMB. Administration in Richmond must 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. When I have 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 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. 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.
• (5). It would seem that the root issue of a lack of funding at the IMB is NOT the formula of the CP, 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. Our state keeps 60 percent of CP monies; 40 percent is sent to the Executive Committee in Nashville. Of that 40 percent, the IMB 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 percent of church receipts over the past five years, while the average Southern Baptist church in other states reduced CP giving to just above 5 percent. Oklahoma SB chuches give significantly more to the CP than SBC churches in other states. Why is that? I might suggest 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 percent that stays in Oklahoma than I am with the 40 percent that goes elsewhere.
So, I believe Paul Chitwood, Chairman of the IMB, is wrong. The CP formula does not need to change to help the IMB during its fiscal crisis.