Is the Cooperative Program relevant? My answer has always been YES because of the way I view two words: Cooperation and Capacity.
I said YES as a church planter – when I realized the missiological efforts of our core group were being fueled by funds from the Tennessee Baptist Convention and the North American Mission Board. I clearly understood that we could plant a church near a public-housing development with many low-income (or no income) residents because Southern Baptists across this nation were partnering with us. That same understanding led our church plant to continue supporting the Cooperative Program, even after we were no longer receiving NAMB and state convention funding.
I said YES as a pastor when I led a fifty year-old congregation into Southern Baptist (and Kentucky Baptist) life. The Cooperative Program and the “Southern Baptist” way of doing missions were new to these Christians. During this transition, I explained many things to our congregation, but the training and ministry-preparation events provided by our state convention and LifeWay sold that congregation on the benefit of cooperative missions giving.
Also, during this time, I benefitted from theological education at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, which was a fraction of the costs charged by other Bible-believing seminaries (By the way, it feels quirky justifying the CP to a pastor that has been educated in a CP-supported institution).
As an African-American congregation new to Southern Baptist life, that church became one of the leading CP churches in our state.
I said YES when pastoring a large SBC church. I pushed for increased CP giving even in challenging economic times. In a larger church, with the capacity to do many ministries and support individual missionaries, I was reminded of Pastor Johnny Hunt’s words regarding a church’s “stewardship of influence.” First, no church, regardless of its size, can do as much as they might do when locked up with other churches for missiological impact. Second, in light of the interaction between churches in the New Testament, I would encourage churches to view a “lone ranger” approach to missions as inconsistent with New Testament models.
Besides my experiences, let’s think about the two words: cooperation and capacity.
First, cooperation. Southern Baptists have said, “At the center of our funding stands the Cooperative Program, which since 1925 has served to mobilize the stewardship of Southern Baptists for worldwide missions and ministry” (GCRTF Report). That is not simply a “We’ve always done it like that” statement. Instead, it reflects an appreciation for the consistent funding stream that has allowed Southern Baptists to attempt many (not a few) great things in the area of missions.
Aside from the funding strength it provides, cooperation has many spiritual benefits. It provides a safeguard against self-focus, insularity, being self-willed, and the temptation towards kingdom building or celebrity seeking.
Messengers from our churches approve budgets for CP expenditures at the state and national levels. Yes, that is a process – but I would suggest it is a helpful process for financial and spiritual reasons. Missionally uniting with other Southern Baptists demonstrates the congregation’s recognition that we are a part of a larger body of Baptists through which God may work for His purposes (1 Corinthians 12).
Cooperation also makes much sense if one has a missiological burden that is broader than one’s immediate context. Who doesn’t look at the brokenness around our nation and world without realizing the need for gospel ministry that is beyond the abilities of your congregation?
Second, capacity. In terms of “relevance”, nothing is more relevant (in our contemporary society) than to “love your neighbor” ministries that Southern Baptists are able to do, solely because of our high capacity, cooperative approach to ministry.
For instance, no boutique “network” shows up at disasters like Southern Baptists. We cooperatively have the ability to empower congregations for mercy ministries with equipment, like medical and dental clinics, that is beyond the ability of most congregations to purchase individually. In a society that is becoming increasingly hostile to biblically-faithful Christianity, nothing is more relevant than our mercy ministries that touch the brokenness of our society and often prepare our neighbors to allow us to share a witness for Christ.
Also, nothing in SBC life speaks to capacity like our International Missions Board. Even with recent adjustments, our IMB is unique among missions agencies in its breadth and scope. Many non-SBC missionaries have to spend substantial time raising and maintaining support. Cooperatively, Southern Baptists field a substantial full-time missions force.
Is the Cooperative Program relevant? Is your answer YES? It depends on how much you value two words: cooperation and capacity.