Wednesday, May 17, 2006

On Cash and Cooperation

Since the nomination of Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd for President of the Southern Baptist Convention two weeks ago, much noise has been made of the percentage his FBC Springdale gives to the Cooperative Program. Many of those calling for closer scrutiny of Dr. Floyd's financial commitments to the Southern Baptist machine are dear friends of mine, and people with whom I largely agree regarding recent events that have taken place in Southern Baptist life. Admittedly, $32,000 in total CP giving seems a paltry sum on the surface, when compared with a total church budget of nearly $12 million.

Still, before casting stones at Ronnie Floyd, a closer examination must be given to the overall commitment Springdale First possesses to missions. And one other observation is also in order: namely, the reality of "postdenominationalism" and its practical outworking, even in more established congregations like Floyd's.

Maybe in order to see the entire issue more clearly, both sides of this discussion need to tone it down a bit. For instance, one side needs to recognize the difference between tough, up front questions and character assassination. Marty Duren links to an excellent example of this confusion as one blogger writes "One thing that has troubled me lately is the amount of slanderous chatter going on via the blogosphere. I cannot understand how someone can call themselves a Christian and then go out and attempt to demolish the character of a fellow laborer of Christ. Someone please explain that! I can tell all the naysayers this: Ronnie Floyd is a man of God who is, in my mind, unmatched in his committment to preaching the word of God for what it is without apology."

Perhaps there are some postings in cyberspace which are more jaded than they should be, but I know of no serious thinker in SBC life, including many "younger leaders" who would disagree with the above statement. I too admire Dr. Floyd for his service to FBC Springdale, and for the impact that he has no doubt had on our culture through his broadcast ministry. The question at hand has nothing to do with Ronnie Floyd as a person, or Ronnie Floyd as a man of God. The question at hand is one of comparing recent SBC lamentings about the pathetic giving records of many of her elected leaders with the giving record at FBC Springdale.

Southern Baptists have a right to know why a candidate for the SBC presidency gives a sum to the Cooperative Program comparatvely as small as a fundamentalist's Sunday afternoon tip at Dennys. That said, I personally don't feel this issue is enough to warrant looking toward another candidate, and over all, I think Ronnie Floyd would do a superb job as the next SBC President. Still, to accuse those asking tough and neccesary questions of character assassination is to skirt the real issue, to say the least.

On the other side of this conversation are those who simply want to know the reasons behind a .27 percent CP giving record. While this is a fair question, consideration must also be given to the overall missions and outreach emphasis that is taking place in Springdale Arkansas. In addition to the $189,000 given in total to Southern Baptist causes (1.6% according to Florida Baptist Witness contributor Michael Petty), Floyd's church has partnered to plant many churches both in the US and abroad. And FBC Springdale is but one example of a host of churches doing this very same thing. Richard Cimino and Don Lattin predicted eight years ago that even theologically conservative denominations will face both downsizing and de-centralizing in years to come.

Driven by the Biblical conviction that the local church decides its own destiny and mission under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, churches will begin alligning themselves with multiple entities of like affinity that they perceive will help them to accomplish their vision. This is a trend that actually began more than a decade ago, with organizations like the Willow Creek Association. Today, other networks like Acts 29 are enlisting partners from a variety of denominational backgrounds. Each of those churches remains affiliated with its denomination on doctrinal matters, but alligns itself with other networks that will more effectively help it to reach its goals.

That said, I'm grateful for the guys out there asking the tough questions about Ronnie Floyd. But although we all have a right to know, we also need to consider the possibility that maybe, by contributing to many different streams of missions, Ronnie Floyd embodies the kind of multiple-allignment predicted by guys like Camino and Lattin, and rightly celebrated by guys like Steve McCoy.

The real crime here is that there appears to be somewhat of a double-standard on this issue. For example, when we enlist and fund guys to plant churches, we require them to give a certain percentage of their undesignated funds to the Cooperative Program (and its a lot more than .27 percent!) Had one of my church planters given a percentage close to that of FBC Springdale, I would have pastors asking me to defund his ministry. Yet it is possible that the SBC President elected this year could be pastor of a church that gives less than one half of one percent to the Cooperative Program. The bottom line is that we have no consensus on what it really means to support Southern Baptist missions.

Maybe it is at this juncture that we can learn from the emerging networks. Some, such as Willow Creek Association, have set dues depending ont he size of one's church. Others, like the Acts 29 network, require a certain percentage of a church's budget for that church to remain affiliated. Although I am not in favor of requiring "tithing" to the CP by SBC churches, I think a baseline requirement for CP giving in order for a church to remain SBC is not out of order. Personally, I would reccomend at least 2% of a church's budget given to the Cooperative Program and Association combined in order to identify as a Southern Baptist Church. I anticipate that there will be cries about "congregational autonomy," if and when such measures are suggested. But how would baseline giving criteria threaten the autonomy of the local church? If the church doesn't want to give, they are in a sense already declaring that they don't value being a part of the SBC, but they haven't lost their right to decide their own direction under the Lordship of Jesus.

My guess is that all the noise about Ronnie Floyd is due to the fact that we have no idea what it means to be a "committed Southern Baptist." We need a serious discussion about what this does mean. We need to come to consensus on what is and is not an appropriate level of Cooperative Program support. And when this is done, let's be consistent with how we apply our conclusions. The standard applied to Ronnie Floyd ought to be the same standard applied to an unknown church planter in suburban Baltimore. What's good for the goose . . .

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