The Slow Death Of The Cooperative Program

With the election of Kevin Ezell, Senior Pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, KY, as the new President of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Cooperative Program moves ever closer to its ultimate demise as SBC “leaders” march our great Convention toward a radical and complete redefinition.  I would like to say that I am surprised by the choice, but for anyone who has closely followed the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force’s deliberations (as much as one could follow closed and sealed meetings), including the debate and implementation of the Task Force’s recommendations at the SBC Convention this past June and for anyone who has clearly comprehended SBC President Bryant Wright’s thoughts on radically redefining the SBC, the election of Kevin Ezell is consistent with the reigning philosophy of certain elites who are in positions of power within the Convention.

Shortly after moving to Louisville in the late summer of 1994, my wife and I began searching for a church where we could grow and serve.  After visiting a few churches in the area, we made our way to Highview Baptist Church one Sunday morning.  After our first visit, we knew that Highview would be our new home church.  Even though we grew up in a medium-sized Southern Baptist church in Florida, we were immediately comfortable with the large size (around 1,500 in worship) of the church.  Even more importantly, we fell in love with the people that we met.  After a few weeks attending, we felt led to join this body of believers and we moved our membership to Highview. 

We quickly became involved in a young couples Sunday School class where we met other couples our age, some who attended seminary and some who did not.  It was at Highview that we met Len and Missy, who remain dear friends to this day.  After about six months, my wife and I were asked to help teach a Special Needs Sunday School class for adults.  Wanting to plug in and serve, we said yes.  For the next year, we had the joy and privilege of teaching these wonderful people.  I hope that we were a blessing to those in our class, but I truly believe that Brenda and I received the greater blessing through our experience.  In March of 1996, we left Highview to answer God’s call to pastor Guston Baptist Church, about one hour outside of Louisville.

Kevin Ezell had not yet arrived at Highview when my wife and I left.  We therefore did not have any experience at Highview after Dr. Ezell was called as pastor.  I have no doubt that Highview, under Pastor Ezell’s leadership, continues to have a tremendous Kingdom impact in Louisville and the world.  I have never met Kevin Ezell, although I have in recent days talked with those who know he and his wife.  I do not know any of the NAMB trustees who served on the Presidential Search Committee that recommended Dr. Ezell for this position.  Therefore, I will not comment upon the personal merits of Dr. Ezell’s nomination and election as President of the North American Mission Board.  However, that does not mean that as a pastor of a cooperating Southern Baptist church that I cannot comment on the wisdom of choosing someone like Dr. Ezell to serve ALL Southern Baptists as the leader of one of the greatest missions agencies in the world.

There will be some who will defend Dr. Ezell’s election by saying, “God spoke; the trustees listened; case closed; no questions will be taken; end of story; get over it.”  Well, before we get over it, we perhaps need to ask some questions of those trustees who are supposed to represent Southern Baptists.  Sometimes, like certain Senators and Congressmen, the trustees of OUR Southern Baptist agencies need to be reminded that the people still have a voice in what happens in our Convention.  Trustees and leaders within the SBC hierarchy ignore grass-roots Southern Baptists at their own peril.  Maybe some leaders have forgotten that it was grass-roots pastors and the people in the pews of small and medium-sized churches throughout the Convention that helped the CR succeed.  If these same leaders continue head-long down the path of the GCR, they may one day wake up and find the most enthusiastic supporters of the CR are no longer following.

And just where is the ruling class within the SBC leading?  Exactly where they told us they would take us — to radically redefining what it means to be a cooperating Southern Baptist church.  While many people thought that the Cooperative Program was saved and strengthened when the GCRTF magnanimously agreed to revised language regarding “Great Commission Giving,” the reality is that the Cooperative Program, as we know it today, will cease to exist if the philosophy of the GCRTF continues to dominate within the SBC.  What, exactly, is that philosophy?

It is a philosophy that thinks that the pastor of a church whose budget is $6.2 million, but who led his church to contribute only $10,000 in 2009 to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, is the best person to lead the North American Mission Board.  It is a philosophy which believes that small and medium-sized SBC churches, many of whom give sacrificially at levels of 10% or more to the Cooperative Program, should not dare question why certain mega-churches, whose pastors serve in key leadership positions within the SBC, only give less than 3% to CP.  It is a philosophy that shows its disdain for State Conventions by promoting and encouraging direct giving to SBC entities and agencies outside of CP channels.  It is a philosophy which tells churches to keep sending your money to the SBC, but refuses to divulge the salaries and benefits of those who are serving the Convention.  Even Congress doesn’t do that!  It is a philosophy that says the agencies and entities are accountable to the churches of the Convention, but in reality has created a ruling class that thinks they are no longer accountable to rank and file Southern Baptists.

For years, many politicians thought that they could vote one way in Washington and tell their constituents back home something different.   And for years they got away with it.  Not anymore.  Witness the defeat of many long-time elected leaders who have been thrown of out office by a weary and fed-up electorate.  Over time, the politicians simply lost touch with the people they were supposed to represent and it finally caught up with them.

For many leaders within the Southern Baptist Convention, they have lost touch with the average Southern Baptist.  With their words they say one thing — “we support the Cooperative Program” — while with their actions they demonstrate a level of cooperative giving that most Southern Baptists, including this one, find quite the opposite of “support.”  Maybe I’m alone in how I view the radical redefinition taking place before our very eyes.  I don’t think that I am.  Surely there are others, in churches of all sizes, who see what is happening to our Convention.  Only time will tell, but I believe grass-roots Southern Baptists are beginning to see the dis-connect between what our leaders are saying and what they are doing.  And when those same leaders overreach because they think they have a mandate for radical change, they just may find that the people and churches they represent aren’t buying the hope and change that they’re selling!

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About Howell Scott

I have been a Southern Baptist pastor for the last fourteen years. Before entering the ministry, I was a practicing attorney in my homestate of Florida. I have been married to my wife, Brenda, for 18 years and we have three sons, Stephen, Jacob, and Andrew.
This entry was posted in Cooperative Program, Great Commission Resurgence, Southern Baptist Convention and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The Slow Death Of The Cooperative Program

  1. CASEY says:

    Perhaps…..NO!, with more certainty than that, “SOUTHERN BAPTISTS NEED THEIR OWN TEA PARTY”. It’s coming….

    • Howell Scott says:

      Casey,

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I think that what we have seen in the country at large, with the Tea Party reaction to the overreach of the ruling elites in Washington, has striking parallels to what is taking place within the Southern Baptist Convention. When you have a Task Force, working for the churches of the Convention, voting unilaterally to seal their own records, all the while telling us we should be open and transparent, is the height of irony (and arrogance).

      The grass-roots churches that are supporting the Convention through sacrificial giving to CP are being awakened to the countervailing philosphy of the megachurches which say one thing but do another. This is not about whether these churches are “successful” or making a Kingdom impact. This is about what it means to be a cooperating Southern Baptist church. We have two very different definitions that are on a collision course with one another. To come away from Orlando thinking that you have a mandate for radical change is the same hubris that President Obama and the democrats exhibited following the November 2008 election. November is coming. And so is June 2011 in Phoenix!. Thanks again for reading. God bless,

      Howell

      • Stephen Fox says:

        Howell:
        Couple thoughts.
        AS you can imagine at SBC Voices David Miller has got me in the penalty box and we don’t seem to have enough capacity to work out the differences. I think he is needlessly throwing up obstacles cause he can’t refute my more informed background on the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, so he has found a convenient way to silence me.
        But that is beside the point right now. So far though you and I disagree on some elemental takes of the CR; we do have a common interest in some matters.
        First the Tea Party analogy to where the SBC is now. That’s interesting. One way to look at it would be to explore the differences in tack and style 20 years ago in Arkansas between Mike Huckabee and Ronnie Floyd. That could me an interesting historical SBC microcosm indeed.
        OTOH, I’m not sure the Tea Party is as noble as some true believers think. Mygood friend in Bama, CR point man and Musings from Maytown blogger, John Killian (google him up). is on board.
        But in the end you are talking about a different outcome than say what the populism of Fred Harris was going for in 76; There was a most fascinating panel on http://www.booktv.org last night I commend to you if you can make time for it. Four people including Dick Armey and a HarvardProff, Tucker Carlson to boot.
        AT the Voices you remarked that Obama administration ran too far with the ball out of the Gate. I disagree with you on that as well; consider that a shortsighted analysis. While Obama likeany administration will have some miscues. Obama’s biggest problem now is he has been Swiftboated in a massive way.
        Eisenhower took Joe McCarthy to the woodshed. General Colin Powell did the same for Newt Gingrich on Meet the Press.
        I commend that transcript to you.
        Hope things otherwise are well andlooking forward to ongoing conversation.
        I may copy and paste this over to Bl.com, to spread the Juice as it were.

      • Howell Scott says:

        Stephen,

        Thanks for the sharing your thoughts this morning. I don’t know David personally, so I can’t comment on why you have been put in the penalty box. For my blog, someone would have to say some pretty egegious (i.e., profane or offensive language) things for be to ban them from commenting. That does not include strong personal opinions that I may happen to disagree with. Otherwise, why allow commenting at all? Of course you and I are not going to see eye to eye on every issue, but I think that we have had and can continue to have a civil Christian dialogue on these matters.

        I don’t think the Tea Party analogy is on all points with what is happening within the SBC which is why I have refrained from making a direct comparison between the two. I do see similarities as to what has been perceived as an overreach by President Obama and the Democrats in Congress and the resulting backlash which started in the Summer of 2009. We may disagree on how Obama has handled things, but the backlash is growing with the Tea Party and I believe we will see a backlash that continues to grown among grass-roots Southern Baptists. I can’t wait to see who is nominated for IMB president. IF it is a member of the GCR Task Force, I will not be surprised. If that happens, I think you will begin to see more open opposition to the ruling class within the Convention. I have heard about the Huckabee/Floyd issues in Arkansas, but have not explored them in depth. Probably very interesting to compare the philosophies of the two.

        As to the Tea Party itself, I think you perhaps are correct in your assessment. I am not opposed to the Tea Party, but at the same time I am not aboard the Tea Party Express. I think there are some underlying issues which are cause for concern, especially as expressed by Newt Gingrich and Gov. Palin. I can tell you from a political perspective that I would not vote for either of those candidates in the Republican primary. Too much baggage. I have heard about the Powell/Gingrich exchange, but have not watched it. I’ll have to make time to do that.

        Things are well in NM. Have second funeral in three days this afternoon. Look forward to continuing the dialogue. And, by the way, I don’t think you ever answered a previous question I asked you: Alabama or Auburn? Have a great day and God bless,

        Howell

  2. Stephen Fox says:

    In regard the Auburn Alabama Question I think the joke is on the State of Alabama. I remember about the 2nd time I substituted 5th grade in small town Alabama the burning question as the kids were getting to know me was I bama or Auburn.
    I told them I was for Judge Frank Johnson and MLKing.

    I have a good friend in the state whose Dad completed a 65 yard pass in an Auburn JV Game in 64 and played tennis once with a fellow who took Joe Namath Down in a Practice Scrimmage. He said The Bear Himself came down off the scaffolding tower and chewed him out.
    Had a grand conversation earlier this year with an old girlfriend of Kenny Stabler. It was hilarious and delightful.
    Howell Raines has a great article up at http://www.tnr.com on the legacy of the Bear’s relationship with George Wallace. That’s kinda where my interest lie.
    I don’t think Bama is going undefeated this year. I think they will lose two games on Hubris alone.
    Here is what you don’t know. Nick Saban was on the lawn as an onlooker the day four students were killed at Kent State in 1970, and twoweeks later Nixon Joined Billy Graham at UTenn Vol Stadium in Knoxville.
    And that’s about all I know about that.

  3. Stephen Fox says:

    David Miller has openned the rhetoric of the CR wide again with a post at SBCImpact.
    I hope you engage there and bl.com and we may discuss it some here as well.
    As for the Tea Party, take a look at the Bunch book The Backlash.

    I think I said somewhere else, lot of good folks who in my opinion, are misled in their passion. Age old trick of distracting working class from voting against the economic interest, Atwater’s classic Fog Machine. The Tea Party at core is one Grand Fog Machine.

    As for Ezell, again Gene Scarborough, yourself and SBCplodder blog are getting to the guts of the issue seems to me; least in the way it has come to play itself out in the CR.

  4. Stephen Fox says:

    Howell:

    Here is an email David Miller just sent me.

    You are not going to carry on your little Anti-Dave Miller campaign on Impact. Get over it. You abused your commenting rights and I am holding you accountable.

    Any comment you write on my post at Impact will be deleted if it:

    1) Mentions your crusade about Voices
    2) Is not germane to the topic at Impact.

    I thought you would find it interesting. Question seems to me how could SBCvoices have any credibility with a Little Pontificating Queen like Miller running the show; his own litte shadow Kingdom in the SBC World. Mohler and Ezell have their Kingdom and now Miller has his.
    May he Reign Forever (drooling sarcasm)
    Maybe this woulda been more appropriate for your Civil Discourse blog of August, but I am honestly about just how wadded, to use Rob Ayers phrase from SBC Impact, he has gotten his underwear.

    The post I submitted at the Impact I placed at SBC Trends of http://www.baptistlife.com/forums .

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