When I talk to people in Salt Lake City, Utah about serving in full-time ministry, they are often perplexed and want to know more because most religious clergy in Utah serve as volunteers.
They are equally as bewildered when I tell them I serve full-time with the Southern Baptist Convention because many don’t even know what the Southern Baptist Convention is. Needless to say, the people around whom I live have no idea what the Cooperative Program (CP) is, what it does, who is cooperating, or why it is relevant. Sometimes I wonder the same about our own Southern Baptist brothers and sisters and our understanding of the CP.
Put simply, the Cooperative Program consists of thousands of autonomous, like-minded congregations around the world cooperating together for the sake of missions and ministry. It has often been referred to as the greatest cooperating effort of autonomous congregations in the history of Christianity. I couldn’t agree with that sentiment more. However, since the CP was founded in 1925, many may wonder if it is still relevant to us today. Maybe a better way to fund missions and ministry is out there waiting to be discovered. Or, maybe, just maybe, even though it is nearly 100 years old, the CP is still relevant for today and is the best way to fund our joint efforts of missions and ministry. I stand, unashamedly, and say the CP is absolutely relevant and is, without a doubt, bringing together autonomous congregations who may not be working together otherwise. Is, however, the CP still relevant?
First, without the Cooperative Program and the gifts sent to our area in Salt Lake City, we would not be able to fund the overwhelming need we have for missions and missionaries. Here in Utah, our population of 3+ million people is 98% non-Christian, meaning there are fewer than 65,000 Christians in the entire state. When taking into account the percentage of those who are Southern Baptist, the number drops dramatically.
As of 2010, there are approximately 13,000 Southern Baptists in Utah, meaning we make up 0.4% of the population. There is no way 13,000 people can provide missions funds to reach their 2.9+ million neighbors. That would basically mean every individual Southern Baptist in Utah would be solely responsible for the budget of a 230 person church. Only cooperative efforts of all Southern Baptists around the world allow us in Utah to reach all of our neighbors. Without these efforts, our missions efforts in Utah would not be possible. That is directly relevant, temporally and eternally, to the persons with whom we share the gospel.
Second, as a former professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, a percentage of my salary was provided by the Cooperative Program. I am thankful Southern Baptists see the need to invest in quality education and provide for biblically sound educators to train the next generation of pastors, missionaries, church staff members, and professors. Without the CP, Southern could not have afforded to provide for my entire salary and I would have needed to raise additional funds or be bi-vocational. Being full-time at Southern allowed me to stay in my office after class to focus on research, writing, and investing in students as they dropped by my office for advice, prayer, and counsel. Though the classroom was extremely important, I found that much more teaching came in my office or over coffee than in the classroom. The CP provided that opportunity for all faculty to care for students in this way. That is directly relevant to the training of the next generation of ministers.
Third, as a person who earned an MDiv and PhD at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, a large percentage of my education cost was provided by the Cooperative Program. Without the cooperative efforts of Southern Baptists, paying for my education would have been extremely difficult. Though I worked two jobs to pay for my education as I went through seminary, working more would have been nearly impossible and would have resulted in extremely poor performance in the classroom and a less-than-ideal educational experience. Funding from the CP provided me the opportunity to have an extremely good educational experience, one I would not trade for anything. That is directly relevant to those who are in seminary, both now and in the future.
Sometimes, as we say in my home state of South Carolina, things just get “worn slap out”. When that happens, those things need to be replaced. Many times, we may think something that’s been around for a while may just be “worn slap out”. This is simply not true of the Cooperative Program. It is as relevant now as it was in 1925, maybe more so. I am personally thankful for it and for those who sacrifice to give toward our cooperative missions and ministry efforts.