by Erin Roach
BALTIMORE (BP) — Southern Baptists are advancing, not retreating, as they rally to give more through the Cooperative Program to fuel the Great Commission task, Executive Committee President Frank Page told messengers to the SBC annual meeting in Baltimore June 10.
“We thank God that two years ago the Cooperative Program stopped its declination at 5.41 percent and last year rose for the first time in two decades to 5.50 percent,” Page said.
The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ way of combining resources to finance ministry worldwide.
“I like to say to pastors young and old, ‘If you know a better way, let me know. I’ll support it. I’ll drop the Cooperative Program if you can show me something else that long-term is effective and engages every church concurrently and consistently in an Acts 1:8 strategy. Show it to me, and I’ll support it. I’ll drop Cooperative Program,'” Page said. “But I haven’t found it yet.”
Page showed a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of a vulture stalking a Sudanese girl as she struggled to find sustenance at an aid station in 1994. When critics asked the photographer if he helped save the girl, he disclosed that he did not. Page said the photo has gripped him since he first saw it.
“Friends, I say to you today that I don’t really think we’ve done much better for that little girl. Have we done any better with our world? Have we helped the girl spiritually? Have we helped countless millions to die without hearing the Good News of our Lord Jesus?” Page asked.
Southern Baptists must reach the girl and those like her who are perishing without Christ, he said. The church has received a calling from Jesus in the Great Commission, and believers share the love of Jesus that is demonstrated as a powerful force throughout Scripture.
Page commended state convention partners that have joined national entities in streamlining their operations to devote more resources to reaching the nations for Christ. Ten years ago, state convention employees numbered 1,750. Now the figure is 1,350, he said.
“But you see, regardless of what happens at the national level or even the state level, what really matters is whether or not local churches understand what the Cooperative Program is and reengage in those ministries,” Page said.
A diverse group of pastors appeared in a video called “Count Me In,” expressing their support for the Cooperative Program as a key component in the missions task.
“We have a God who can make all this happen,” Page said. “… I say this to you because I ask you to join me in begging God like never before. Would you join me and pray for God to ‘show up’ like never before? I’m asking that across this convention we join in prayer like we’ve never prayed before.”
Cooperative Program in action
Earlier in the day, in the first part of the Executive Committee’s report to messengers, Page welcomed to the stage Brian and Hannah Crane, who this year planted Progression Church on the campus of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. The Cranes were influenced heavily by the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at LSU, which is supported by the Cooperative Program.
“It was through the BCM that I taught my first Bible study, that I preached my first sermon, that I led my first ministry event and the first time I ever led any ministry team,” Brian Crane said. “… The BCM taught me one thing, and they taught it well: They taught me how to make disciples.”
Because of Southern Baptist collegiate ministry, Crane said he recognizes that Jesus did not call him to be a passive participant in the church but to be a missionary.
“Through the BCM I learned how to effectively share the Gospel with lost people and see them put their faith in Christ,” Crane said, adding that as a church planter, he daily uses the skills he learned through the BCM.
“Your giving through the Cooperative Program has fueled my call to ministry,” Crane said.
Jacob Watts, an LSU student and member of Progression Church, joined the Cranes on stage to testify that because of Southern Baptists’ giving through the Cooperative Program, as a sophomore in college he helped start a church.
“Southern Baptist family, your investment is changing the lives of thousands upon thousands of college students every day just like me,” Watts said.
As another example of the Cooperative Program in action, Page introduced Terry and Vicki Lassiter, International Mission Board affinity group leaders based in Peru, to tell about God’s ongoing and special work in the Americas.
The Lassiters thanked Southern Baptists for their gifts, which have made a “tremendous impact” on their entire lives.
The cooperative giving of Southern Baptists contributed to the training of the youth pastors that led them to follow Christ and pursue vocational ministry, the couple reported. It also instilled in them a deep love for the Bible through state Bible drills, summer associational camps, Girls in Action and Royal Ambassadors. The couple also shared how they attended Baptist universities and a Southern Baptist seminary that trained them for service on the mission field.
Because of Southern Baptists’ giving through the Cooperative Program, the Lassiters had transportation such as dugout canoes and prop planes to travel to unreached and unengaged people groups in remote jungles. Thirty-seven people groups in the Americas have learned of Jesus as a result of Cooperative Program giving, they said.
Page also recognized Matt Rogers, pastor of The Church at Cherrydale in Greenville, S.C., who through the Cooperative Program has been involved in church planting and church revitalization.
“Church planting and church revitalization, particularly in the Southeast, was not on my radar when my wife and I moved to Southeastern Seminary in 2005,” Rogers said.
But he was discipled, prepared and encouraged to plant a church, and in the summer of 2009, with a team of seven people, he set out to plant a church in South Carolina, “where the church was increasingly losing ground in seemingly fertile soil.”
“The lackluster religious climate of the Southeast needed the energy that comes from new churches and revitalized existing churches that can multiply disciples and leaders and plant new churches,” Rogers said.
Increasingly Rogers felt a responsibility to “reboot the church planting conversation where for too long, fear and skepticism and mutual distrust had caused those who should partner together to grow further apart.”
Recently the young church Rogers led, meeting in an elementary school, merged with an existing congregation to form a new church, “to forge a new paradigm for Kingdom partnership that would eclipse generations of church divisions and splits.”
The two churches voted to become The Church at Cherrydale. “We hope that this rewrites the scorecard in the Southeast to show that churches can work together,” Rogers said.
“We have seen the lost saved, the weak in the faith matured and a disciple-making culture come alive. And you have played a significant role in that journey. Your giving through the Cooperative Program has been a primary conduit of God’s grace for us.”
Erin Roach is a writer in Nashville, Tenn. Tim Sweetman, director of communications at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, also contributed to this story.