Graham & Prestonwood's Serious Threat to Cooperative Ministry Efforts

This article originally appeared at SBC Voices.
At times, Baptists from Texas have been known to cause a ruckus in SBC life. It was about 40 years ago that Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler were forming plans for a revolution in the Southern Baptist Convention. Yesterday, news dropped that a Texas megachurch pastor aims to make serious waves in the SBC - but with a wholly different approach than Pressler and Patterson.

Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist, through one of their staff, announced that the church would be withholding their Cooperative Program giving, one million dollars annually, until they’re more satisfied with the leadership and direction of the SBC. We’re tempted to be shocked by this action because of the number of zeros that accompanies the financial figure. But the real story here is that a former SBC President has chosen such a destructive tactic to strong-arm change in our cooperative ministries. That’s a serious charge. And I plan in this article to explain why the charge is not overstated.

This Tactic Is Destructive to SBC Cooperative Work

Pressler and Patterson showed the way to affect change in SBC life. They worked through the bylaws and convention processes to win a majority of committee and trustee spots in order to affect change.

It’s a good thing for all of us their tactic wasn’t to withhold or redirect Cooperative Program giving. Had they chosen that path during the 70’s and 80’s, who can doubt it would have led to a splintering or fracturing of the SBC rather than the unprecedented resurgence God allowed us to see?

The reason Jack Graham’s tactics are destructive to the SBC is not because the budget will take a hit, as sorry as I am to see our missions work and seminaries have less resources to use. His tactics are destructive because as soon as this philosophy is adopted, as soon as Graham’s behavior is emulated, the entire endeavor of cooperative ministry collapses. Envision this: Faction is quickly pitted against faction in SBC life in ways far more dramatic than anything we’ve seen before. Each group states their demands and holds hostage their missions giving until those demands are met. Some factions give up and splinter off. The ones with the big money buy their influence and no one cares what the vast majority of SBC churches think—because their budget isn’t big enough for their threats to matter. This doesn’t even take into account how many churches and pastors check out of cooperative ministry because it’s become as politicized as secular politics.

If Jack Graham believes dramatic change is needed in SBC life (and I’ll disagree with him all day about that, but that’s another conversation), he should emulate those that have gone before us, continue to cooperate in good faith, and seek to influence by advocating, electing, and convincing rather than threatening to defund cooperative ministry. Pressler and Patterson chose the way of courage. It was costly and took time, but the fruit is evident now. What we’re seeing today is not courage. It’s destructive and should be widely condemned.

Withholding Funds to Seek Influence Should Be Rejected

Yesterday’s press release indicated Prestonwood was withholding funding because of their concerns and that it likely would be restored if those concerns were satisfied. This is seeking to influence through financial pressure and I see no way around that interpretation. It sounds from the press release that Graham and Prestonwood wouldn’t even dispute that’s the purpose, even if they don’t like the wording of my description.

Graham’s views on the direction of the SBC have been clear for anyone who cared to listen. They’ve been promoted by some of the more tabloid-style state Baptist papers. I’ve known for some time now that Graham isn’t happy with Russell Moore. The article indicates there are additional unnamed concerns.

Now, I’m actually a pretty big advocate of churches being able to give to cooperative missions as they feel led and not guilted into a certain percentage. So this would seem like an issue where I’d normally say, sure, Prestonwood, if that’s how you feel led to steward your money, then have at it. What makes me see this as more than just a local church stewardship issue?

Local church stewardship issues—when a church’s leadership feels stewardship demands missions dollars be redirected—can be handled wisely and quietly. I've handled some in the past. Never have I thought it would be productive to publicize reasons we decided to end support for a ministry. There’s a way to redirect missions giving as a church leader that doesn’t end up at a press conference or in a newspaper headline. This is not about an autonomous SBC church choosing to give (or not give) in a different pattern than they used to. This is about taking that decision and using it to pressure and cause people to take your threats and your position more seriously than your voice alone warrants.

Please don't miss the fact that Prestonwood could have quietly (or, less desirably, vocally) withheld funding from just the ERLC, which receives a small percentage of total CP giving while continuing to fund IMB, NAMB, our SBC seminaries. Why withhold all CP money and why the press release? Those are only a few of the questions that make this situation so disturbing.

We don’t have a convention where big money buys a big voice. But that’s exactly how we’re being treated right now. Those who have a lot of money are in the newspaper reminding us—in dollar figure form no less—that their voice needs to be heeded, or else...

A Few More Questions

Is this the way we want the SBC to operate in the future—Churches threatening to withhold money until their demands are met? Churches with big budgets calling the shots while thousands of average-sized churches watch and hope our vision for the convention aligns with the self-appointed convention benefactors? Do we really want IMB personnel on the field waiting to hear if churches are withholding funds because we can’t get along about secular politics?

I reject this future for the SBC, and because I do, I can’t be silent now. This path is destructive to our cooperative work and I pray we don’t choose it. Jack Graham and Prestonwood, leadership here looks like reversing this decision. Other SBC leaders, if they won’t, please call this for what it is.
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