Page 'cautiously optimistic' about future of Cooperative Program
FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – The Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee president Frank Page discussed the future of the Cooperative Program during a Q&A session with students and faculty at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, March 23. The seminary welcomed Page to this session immediately after he spoke in Southwestern’s chapel service.
“I am cautiously optimistic,” said Page, a graduate of Southwestern Seminary. “There is caution because in the 21st century world, most every movement is toward societal giving, back to where we were before the convention started the Cooperative Program in 1925. And that is, each entity, each organization, seeks its own donors for its own causes. And we are moving in that direction. That is the 21st-century mentality. We’re in a time when everybody knows better how to do it themselves than trusting others. So there is some caution there.
“I am also optimistic because there are some seismic shifts going on. … There are some changes, not only among the younger demographic but in leadership and in how we promote the Cooperative Program.”
Page encouraged faculty members and students to model faithfulness to the CP, as well as encouraging them “to study and evaluate” the program for themselves. The CP has had its flaws, but by studying the program, Southern Baptists can see its overwhelming advantages and repair any defects it may have.
“I do believe the Cooperative Program is worth studying,” Page said. “If you study it and don't like it, that is fine. But I believe it has worth, so I challenge people: Study it. Look at it. I believe there are biblical reasons why the Cooperative Program is good. I believe there are compelling logistical reasons why it works well. In fact, I do believe that if we were to go to a totally societal method, I don't believe it would even be another generation before people would come back and say, 'Give us that Cooperative Program back.' There is economy of scale in it. There are logistical reasons, and I think if people really study it, they will see that it has worth.”
Noting some of the advantages to the Cooperative Program, Page said that Southwestern Seminary and its students benefit greatly from Southern Baptist cooperation.
“I believe that we need students who can leave here and not be ridden with school debt, so that they can be serving [in small churches] and be on the mission field without having to pay back tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars in school debt.”
After hearing these preliminary statements, Southwestern Seminary students and faculty members were invited to ask questions. Southwestern president Paige Patterson brought the first question.
"Have you ever noticed,” Patterson asked, “the strange parallel between the Cooperative Program and Communism? … Communism has never worked anywhere it has been tried. It has always been a colossal failure. And yet people keep on propping it up and trying it. But by comparison, the Cooperative Program, certainly not a biblical concept by that name, has worked incredibly.
“And yet the only people that seem not to appreciate it are Southern Baptists. And so Communism doesn't work and people keep trying it. The Cooperative Program does work. Unbelievably, it has worked, now boasting the largest mission movement in the history of the world funded by the CP. Out of the 10 largest theological seminaries in America, six of them are ours, and they’re funded largely by the cooperative program.
“All that to set up the question: How on earth are we going to get our people to appreciate the Cooperative Program as much as all the rest of Protestantism appreciates it?"
In response, Page noted that many Southern Baptists “think they are giving to a program instead of giving to a [missions] project in Zimbabwe or in Beijing.” They will appreciate the Cooperative Program if they see the students, church planters, missionaries and the lost around the world who are impacted by the Cooperative Program.
“We have got to do a much better job of putting a face on missions,” Page said.
Page added that “the Cooperative Program, unlike communism, is the voluntary submission of ourselves to the needs of others. The Cooperative Program will only work in an atmosphere of Christlike selflessness.” Prior to the Q&A session, Page urged believers to be characterized by such selflessness and humility in a chapel sermon based on Christ’s parable of the Pharisee and publican in Luke 18:9-14.
Humility not only undergirds the Cooperative Program, but as Page said in his chapel sermon, it is required if Southern Baptists will ever see revival.
“There is a blessedness in prayer and revival when one opens up with humility before the Lord,” Page said. “There is a relationship necessary for revival, but there are requirements. And the first is humility. … If revival is going to fall in the convention, in our churches, in our campuses, it has got to start with me. Revival has got to fall on me. … God, give us humility. God, grant us humility.”
Putting a face on the Cooperative Program
According to Page, Southern Baptists must put a face on the Cooperative Program.
“People in the pew give to a face. They give to a project,” Page said, but few can be excited about giving to an amorphous, cloudy program.
But, according to Page, Southern Baptist cooperation is about much more than a program. The Cooperative Program, he said, consists of “a strong home base with an aggressive global mission.” When a Southern Baptist tithes, a percentage of his gift goes to the state and then to the national conventions, where it is deployed to undergird Southern Baptist efforts to proclaim the Gospel throughout the world.
In fact, the Executive Committee, which manages the business of the SBC throughout the year, distributes gifts to the Cooperative Program almost immediately to the work of Southern Baptists.
“We never hold it more than five days,” Page said. “It goes straight to Southwestern Seminary, to the International Mission Board, to the North American Mission Board, etc.”
The Cooperative Program supports the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in its mission to uphold religious liberty, to preserve the sanctity of marriage, and to defend millions of the unborn put to death in abortion clinics. It supports students training to preach the word and reach the world at the SBC’s six seminaries. And it supports thousands of missionaries, whom Southern Baptists send throughout North America and to the ends earth to share a message of hope with lost men and women.