Randy W. Covington
(Missionary serving in the Russian Far East)Any study of the development of Christianity down through the centuries will show a spirit of cooperation that existed for the express purpose of sharing the express purpose of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with those who were unrepentant. A close look would also indicate that at times the level of cooperation was less than ideal. In truth, the reason that there are so many denomination in the world today can be traced to the fact that there were disagreements about process disrupted the work of the group even to the point of dividing the group into diTerent faction found it impossible to cooperate together and chose to disassociate themselves from one another. Among the numerous Christian denominations of the 20th century, the major differences seem to be more in the area of structure and organization than in doctrine and theology. Therefore in would appear that a spirit of cooperation is essential to the effective growth of organization.
The largest denominations in the world today have certainly developed some very effective methods of cooperation. The Southern Baptist Convention, which is the largest evangelical denomination with more than 15 million members worldwide, is known for its cooperative organization, structure, and financial base. This method of cooperation has survived over 150 yeas through many controversies and even today is being maintained in the face of one of the greatest controversies in its history. A struggle between conservative and liberal factions within the denomination has yet been unable to disrupt the continual cooperative spirit that has been a trademark of this organization. This effectiveness would seem to suggest that these same principles could be applied in a secular setting. Many businesses in America are copying the methods espouses by this denomination and are having great success. An analysis of so .не of these methods of cooperation as they are applied not only by the denominational leadership but by autonomous churches can have great implications on the current Cooperative Movement in Russia.
Most profit-generating businesses have development a pyramid-like structure of organization (See diagram)/ The chief executive officer is seated at the peak of the pyramid with department heads just beneath him followed by work supervisors and then the workers at the bottom of the pyramid. Decisions are made at the top and then filtered down through the levels to the bottom where they are implemented and carried out/ This type of system allows a minority of the organization to make the decisions that will affect the majority, and although has its advantages? does not encourage cooperation and oftentimes fails to motivate the workers/ Since the workers have little input in decision-making, they have no ownership in the company.
The Southern Baptist Convention (Convention) has inverted this pyramid to structure its organization. The more than 38 000 autonomous churches that make up the Convention are the main decision-making body. Representatives from the churches called messengers meet once a year in a large convocation to decide the future work and direction of the Convention. Once these decisions have been made thev are passed on to the next level of supervisors(pastors and state directors) to assist the churches in carrying out these plans. The department heads of the various agencies of the Convention give support and training to enable the churches to accomplish their goals and objectives. The president of the Convention sits at the bottom of the pyramid and serves each of the levels above him. He has no more authority to make decisions on behalf of the organization than what has been given to him by the will of the churches determined in its annual convention.
The goal or purpose of any business is to make a profit for its investors. In the same sense, the Convention has as its goal to make a profit (non-financial) for its investors. Of course the profit it seeks is spiritual in nature: seeking people who recognize their sinfulness, come to a point of repentance, and become members of a local church. This is their intended purpose and goal in life as they serve God. The Bible is their policies and procedures manual and instructs Christians to work in a spirit of cooperation to bring people to repentance.
The second aspect in which the Convention demonstrated a spirit of cooperation is in its finances. In 1925, Southern Baptists in America developed a financial plan simply called The Cooperative Program (CP). This program provides the funding which supports its missions programs, educational institutions, literature distribution organization, as well as its administrative structure. Each of the churches that make up the Convention give a percentage of their tithes and offerings through the CP to support the work of the Convention. The amount ranges between 5 % and 25 % of their total receipts and is determined by the church itself. The Convention encourages each church to give 10 % to the CP, but the decision remain with the local church.
These funds are received by the Convention and then channeled into the various organizations and agencies based on a pre-determined distribution plan that has been adopted by the churches who make up the Convention. This program has allowed Southern Baptists to send the largest missionary force (over 4,200 missionaries) all over the world. It funds the educational programs of six seminaries in the USA including the largest seminary in the world located in Fort Worth, Texas with over 4,000 students. It effectuates the work of the administrative agencies of the Convention. The Baptist Sunday School "Board of the Southern Baptist Convention at first received CP funding, but through the distribution and sale of Christian literature and Bibles has become a profit-making organization. Today it channels all of its profits over and above its operating expenses into the CP.
What implications does this have on the current cooperative movement in Russia? First it would seem that the inverted pyramid form of organization would be more in keeping with the goals and purposes of the cooperative. The cooperative, just like the convention, exists for the purpose and benefit of its members. The individual members of the cooperative would make up the bulk of the organization at the top of the inverted pyramid and would make the decisions that would direct the work of the cooperative. The lower levels of the pyramid would exist for the sole purpose of the administering the work of the cooperative so that it effectively serves the need of its members. The members would-meet on a regular basis to make decisions that effect the work of the group and give direction to the administrative arm of the organization. This meeting serve two basic functions: to evaluate the effectiveness of the cooperatuw in the past and to determine new and more effective ways to operate in the future. The key to its successfulness is the members cooperating together to accomplish its goals and objectives. There is no place for individualism or self-interest in a cooperative.
Diagram 1 Diagram 2
Secondly, a program of cooperative financial support such as the Convention's Cooperative. Program would be very beneficial to the work of the cooperative. Each member of the cooperative would contribute a predetermined amount of capital for participation in the group. At this point the application will differ in the sense that the amount must be predetermined by the organization rather than the participating member. The administrators of the cooperative would be instructed how to invest the capital generated by membership fees and dues. Any profit that might be realized by the group would be shared by the members of the group. The cooperative may exist to accomplish several different goals and at this point the member may choose which of these is most beneficial to himself. Provision my need to be made by the cooperative to channel its funds based on the personal desires of the member. Some programs may call for mandatory participation while others will allow for voluntary participation. Again, the key to the successfulness of the financial plan is cooperation among the members.
The goal of the Southern Baptist Convention is to enable its members churches to accomplish its common tasks of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ in the hope that people will come to repentance. Recognizing that this must be a joint effort to be most effective, churches are combining their resources and energy in a spirit of cooperation. The goal of the cooperative is to provide services that will enable its members to accomplish its common tasks and if it wants to be effective, it must also combine its resources and energy in a spirit of cooperation. Compromise is essential to avoid disruption of the group that may lead to division which ultimately results in weakening of the group. Southern Baptists have for one hundred and Ofly years demonstrated a spirit of cooperation and it is this spirit that has caused them to grow to be one of the largest denominations in the world. If the Cooperative Movement has the desire to share this same history, it must also demonstrate this spirit of cooperation. Then and only then will it experience effective beneficial growth that brings positive results for all participants.