I love the Cooperative Program because I have seen it at work. My first paycheck as a Southern Baptist pastor consisted of combined funds from my church, the local Baptist association, the state convention, and the Home Mission Board (now NAMB). Cooperative Program funds made it financially possible for me to earn three degrees at a Baptist university and seminary. As an employee of two Southern Baptist seminaries and the International Mission Board, I have seen the Cooperative Program at work every day. Students and missionaries are engaging lostness around the world, and the Cooperative Program makes that possible.
Like many others, though, I am concerned about the future of the Cooperative Program. Here are the thoughts of one loyal Southern Baptist.
First, something must change. I’m sure that statement sounds simplistic, but even those of us who love the Cooperative Program must admit the direction we have been heading is not a positive one. I see glimmers of hope, but glimmers will not suffice when churches are still plateaued, cities are still unreached, and 1.7 billion people still have little access to the gospel.
Second, all Southern Baptists, beginning with me, must make sure we are wise stewards of the dollars God gives us. I must budget well and spend wisely in my home, prioritizing funds for God’s work. So must my local church, the local Baptist association, and my state convention. So, too, must the Southern Baptist organizations for which I work. None of us should be threatened by an honest call to prioritize the Great Commission in our spending.
Third, we must admit what approaches to promoting the Cooperative Program will not suffice; that is, we must recognize that some approaches by themselves will not fix the problem. Seminary classes—and I write as a seminary dean—will not by themselves produce Cooperative Program advocates. Denominational programs by themselves will not work. State convention and associational promotions by themselves will not accomplish the task. Frankly, many of those who need to hear the call to Cooperative Program support have already tuned out denominational voices.
I make no claim that this proposal is the answer, but I do believe it is one answer: we who have been have seen the Cooperative Program at work must intentionally teach others about its value. I am not talking about pastors “preaching” the CP to a congregation, or state convention leaders promoting the Program to convention attendees. I am speaking of individuals who strategically invest in other individuals, guiding them to see the value of the CP and challenging them to get on board—a type of “Great Commission mentoring,” if you will.
And, there are many of us who could take on this challenge. Every Southern Baptist educated at a Southern Baptist seminary has been the recipient of Cooperative Program funds. Those of us who have volunteered alongside International Mission Board missionaries have seen the value of cooperative giving. Many state convention employees, associational directors of mission, and church planters have received Cooperative Program funds through the North American Mission Board. If you have met a young leader who is investing his life in a major city to plant a church, you have likely seen those funds at work. Many of us—like me—would not have had a livable wage as a young pastor were it not for Southern Baptists giving through the CP. Even now, the young people in our churches can receive an education and fulfill their ministries because of the Cooperative Program.
We have an obligation to share with others the gift we have received. The needs of the nations demand our attention. You may have your own plan, but here is mine:
- I will take some responsibility for a lack of commitment to the Cooperative Program. As a pastor, I assumed too much—that everyone would automatically know about and support the CP simply because the CP was a portion of our budget.
- I will choose five young church leaders and invest the time and energy necessary to introduce them strategically to the Cooperative Program. My plan is to begin with three seminary students and two local pastors.
- I will tell them how much the CP has contributed to my life. I am privileged to do what I do because Southern Baptists have given through the years.
- I will connect them with Convention leaders, state leaders, associational leaders, missionaries, church planters, and pastors who receive CP support. I want these five young leaders to see the CP as faces and ministries—not as a program.
- I will willingly hear and respond to any concerns and questions these young leaders may have. The Cooperative Program is not perfect, and young minds can help us strengthen it.
- I will not be defensive, but I will challenge these leaders to support the CP even while we work together to make it stronger.
- I will pray weekly for our Convention and state leaders responsible for promoting the Cooperative Program, as well as for the young leaders I am teaching.
- I will expect these leaders then to tell others about the Cooperative Program.
This proposal will not fix everything, but it is a starting point. It is something I can do to encourage support for the Cooperative Program. One to one. Person to person. Pastor to pastor. Face to face. Changed life to changed life, for the sake of those who have not heard the gospel.