Cooperative Program Catalyst Matt Crawford shares the story of Grace Alive Orlando and their pastor Cam Triggs. Thank you for supporting them through the Cooperative Program!
When we first decided to pursue planting a church in our city, we needed to think carefully about why we would plant and how we would do it. This was particularly important for our core team. If these brothers and sisters were going to link arms with me and my family, leave their current church homes, and invest time and resources into starting a new church, then we needed to see the need and be convinced of the strategic nature of the venture.
However, even though we were convinced of the need to plant, not everyone in our town shared the sentiment. The truth is, sadly, established churches often feel threatened by new churches. I get that. When new churches begin, transfer growth is a reality. Church planters can say (and mean) they are not after transfer growth. But it often comes with the territory. New churches simply attract people from other churches.
We knew we would deal with transfer growth, but we were adamant about cultivating a reputation of partnering with other churches in order to reach the unchurched.
Partners, not competitors. That was and is our goal.
What I hope to do in this article is encourage planting pastors and pastors of established churches to partner (rather than compete) for gospel mission as much as they can.
Cross Lines and Spur Each Other On
Historically, great things happen when churches link arms.
In studying the First Great Awakening under the leadership of Whitefield, Edwards, the Tennents, and others, one cannot help but appreciate its trans-denominational and multi-ethnic character (see Thomas Kidd, The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America). Christians from different theological and cultural backgrounds came together in order to see the good news of Jesus flourish. Not only did revival happen among white evangelicals, but among Native-American and African-American communities.
In our day, as we seek outpourings of God’s Spirit, pastors are wise to build relationships with those who are different than themselves. Pastors, are you so tied to denominational allegiances that you miss the chance to partner with other faithful Christians in order to promote the gospel in your city? Build relationships with those who are outside your own cultural and ethnic heritage. We are better together.
One of the joys that I’ve had is meeting with a brother pastor from a different church in our town for encouragement. This pastor is outside of my own theological tribe, but loves the same Jesus. We do not sweep our theological differences under the rug, but we agree to disagree over important but secondary matters in order to see people in our city impacted by the gospel.
Encouraging each other along the way is a biblical idea. Both Paul and the writer of Hebrews called Christians to a ministry of encouragement (1 Thess. 5:11; Heb 10:25). It seems appropriate to encourage every Christian we can while heading towards Heaven through the present evil age.
One of the ways you can foster a spirit of partnership instead of competitiveness is by encouraging the pastors around your city, especially those who are not like you. Let them know that you’re for them, not against them. Make it clear that you’ll rejoice with the angels if God sees fit to bless their gospel-driven and gospel-faithful efforts.
When we cross denominational and ethnic lines in order to spur each other on, we put flesh on the idea that we are planting a partner, not a competitor.
Let me encourage you with a few simple ideas to get started. First, if you’ve never crossed any of the divides I’m talking about, simply start with a cup of coffee. Email a local pastor – someone outside your network – and sit down for a chat. You don’t need to debate the atonement, church government, or their views on women in ministry. Those days might come, but at this initial cup of coffee, leave those hot topics alone and enjoy a hot drink and pleasant conversation. Get to know the pastor in front of you.
Second, if you notice events that other churches are having, and if they’ve invited the community at large, consider attending. You don’t have to attend everything, but sometimes being in these places lets others know that you are not looking down your nose at everything they do and are supportive of gospel effort. The flip side of this is to let them know that you’re happy to have them around your people and involved in what you’re doing, as well.
Third, if appropriate, plan events together. I recently sat down with a group of local pastors and planned an event where four of the churches in our town linked arms to serve our city in tangible ways. Not only are we happy to have coffee with these brothers, to support their events and invite them to ours, but we will link arms in appropriate ways in order to share the love of Jesus.
Fourth, pray for other churches by name. Make sure your people and any visitors that come to your church understand that you are serious about partnering, not competing. One of the ways to do this is to pray for other churches to flourish. We often pray for churches by name and ask the Lord to bless their ministries.
Fifth, and last, send people back to their churches. This one is hard but worth it. We are serious about reaching the lost, not merely swapping sheep. I’ve sat with more than one person who has visited our gathering and asked them to go back to their church, talk to their pastors about the issues they are having, and let their elders shepherd them. That isn’t always necessary, but most of the time, it seems prudent and communicates a spirit of partnership.
We believe we are better when we work together for the cause of Christ. Though we can’t partner in every way with every church, we can link arms for mission and evangelism with those who are with us in the gospel. It’s wise for planting pastors and pastors of established churches to work at crossing lines, denominationally and ethnically. And we cross those lines in order to partner together so that the fame of Jesus spreads across the globe for the joy of all peoples and the glory of our God.
Last weekend, I was privileged to participate in the Evangelicals for Life Conference in Washington, DC. This conference is jointly presented by the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Commission (ERLC) and Focus on the Family. Two Cooperative Program Catalysts, Curtis Cook and myself, were able to host a pastor’s event during the late night portion of the conference.
Evangelicals for Life is one of my favorite events that the ERLC hosts, because of its focus on the sanctity of human life – especially as this sanctity is grounded in the image of God. Guest speakers included Senator Ben Sasse, Senator James Lankford, Jim Daly, Richard Stearns, and NFL player and author Benjamin Watson. I was especially blessed to hear in person from one of my heroes, Joni Eareckson Tada. All speakers challenged us to pray, give, and act on behalf of those in need, babies in the womb, the disabled, and refugees. All of these concerns flow from the gospel and the Imago Dei.
Built into the conference was the opportunity to join the annual March for Life along the National Mall. Prior to the march, there was a rally that featured a satellite address from President Trump – the first time a sitting president has addressed the march in its 45 years. After that, it was incredible to see tens of thousands of people protesting the murderous practice of abortion in our nation. This time lapse posted by Students for Life America gives you a sense of the massive size of the crowd.
Here are pictures of a few Southern Baptists who stood up for life that day:
Dr. Russell Moore of the ERLC is joined here by Dr. Ronnie Parrott of Christ Community Church in Huntersville, NC, and his wife Marci.
Executive Committee Vice President of Cooperative Program Ashley Clayton marched, along with his wife Sharon.
City Church Tallahassee brought several of their staff to the Evangelicals for Life Conference and the March, and Pastor Dean Inserra spoke on a panel at the conference.
Cooperative Program Catalysts Curtis Cook (Northeast Region) and Matt Crawford (South Region) marched, as well.
As a Southern Baptist, it encourages me to see the national leadership on behalf of life that is exercised by the ERLC. The ERLC receives less than 2% of the annual Cooperative Program budget, but what a return we get on this investment! Why? Because speaking and advocating on behalf of the unborn, orphans, the disabled, and others whom society prefers to cast off is not an issue that is peripheral to the gospel. Over and over again in Scripture, we are told to care and work for the good of orphans, widows, and those in need. This is a natural and even necessary response to God’s love that caused Him to come to earth, fight for us to the point of death, and adopt us into His family. As we participate in the Cooperative Program and support the ERLC, we are better together – for LIFE.
This morning, there was a dramatic scene in downtown Nashville, as Draper Centennial Tower at LifeWay’s former campus came down in an implosion. At 9:30 AM local time, the carefully planned implosion took place, clearing the way for new development following the sale of the downtown property – which broke the record for the largest real estate transaction in Nashville history.
LifeWay corporate employees have already been moved to their new location at Capitol View in Nashville – a brand-new building that is specifically tailored to fit the needs of the company, while providing better overall stewardship of resources regarding cost of space. In particular, the technological assets that the new building provides allow for better communication and collaboration across the organization, even with employees who are not located in Nashville.
The implosion was recorded live by many sources, including the Tennessean news agency, which provided a link to the video here: http://www.tennessean.com/videos/news/2018/01/06/video-lifeway-tower-implosion-nashville/109206622/.
Watching the old building come down brought mixed emotions to those who had worked at or visited the LifeWay building, or benefited from their “Biblical Solutions for Life.” But Dr. Jimmy Draper, former President of LifeWay (for whom the imploded tower was named), addressed the issue well when he stated for Baptist Press: “Some wonderful things occurred within those walls. However, that building never helped a church in its ministry, nor any person in their devotion to the Lord. It never designed a budget or a building for a church, nor provided a single piece of Bible study curriculum or a single piece of discipleship material…It never won a single soul to faith in Christ.
“But the people who have served in these buildings have done all that and infinitely more. Individuals come and go, but all who serve or have served here comprise the essence and the strength of LifeWay.”
Dr. Thom Rainer echoed these sentiments to BP: “God has worked in that place, but God is not limited to a place. LifeWay has served the church obediently for 126 years, and the future is in front of us. As we remember our past, we move toward the future with anticipation and excitement.”
Dr. Frank Page, President and CEO of the Executive Committee of the SBC, shared this with me in relation to today’s events: “Life is full of transitions. Ministries, ministers, and institutions go through seasons of transition. LifeWay is certainly in the midst of a major transition in their relocation. The key is to focus on the mission and the person behind that mission. It is the Lord Jesus Christ who should remain our focus. Buildings come and buildings go. Leaders come and leaders go. However, our central focus must always be on our Lord who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life!”
As both a Cooperative Program Catalyst and a LifeWay trustee, I am grateful for men like Dr. Draper, Dr. Rainer, and Dr. Page, who understand that ministry is about more than buildings. The Kingdom of God is not brick and mortar, but God’s reign and work in the hearts of disciples of Jesus. In this work, we are truly better together. May the next generation of Southern Baptists take up this torch as we push back lostness and make disciples of every nation, tribe, people, and language!
One of my favorite moments in the entire Bible is at the conclusion of Acts 16 when Paul helps plant the first church in Philippi and its first three members are a Gentile jailer, a slave girl, and a woman named Lydia. The great irony of how this scene concludes is that prior to his conversion, the former Pharisee, Paul, would most likely have begun his daily prayers by declaring, “God, I thank you that you have not made me a Gentile, a woman, or a slave.” Surely, outsiders who didn’t even yet believe in God must have looked at this beautifully-bizarre, countercultural community and thought, “the only explanation for this is God stepped in and moved.”
Historically, the church has always been at its best when we’ve been a people of reconciliation in times of division. Unfortunately, we’ve been at our worst when we’ve ignored this responsibility in favor of cultural preferences and comforts. Today, with the increased fracturing and divisions in our own culture that we’re painfully and perpetually reminded of through our social media feeds, the church must reclaim this vision that was part of what made it so great at its inception.
There are countless implications here, but in pursuing this destination, I’d love to challenge fellow majority culture leaders and pastors to help lead in this pursuit by responding well to the concerns and questions of our minority brothers and sisters by making three simple commitments:
- I want to develop diverse relationships where I listen more than I speak
One of the greatest impediments to reconciliation is a lack of diverse relationships, which feed into the false belief that “my experience is everyone’s experience.” I started to recognize this when my family adopted our first child of a different ethnicity, and we fairly quickly encountered racism, even in her infancy. I not only realized that my experiences growing up as a white male will be vastly different than my daughter’s, but are radically different in many ways from my minority friends. Consequently, I stopped assuming that my experiences were everyone’s experiences.
- In these relationships, I refuse to diminish my friend’s pain
One of the most dehumanizing things we can do is to dismiss another’s pain, or diminish it by making it seem comparably insignificant. Unfortunately, I’ve been in many rooms where the concerns from minority voices are downplayed because of “how far things have come.” Yes, we should be deeply thankful in the ways there have been progress. At the same time, just because we don’t have slavery doesn’t mean there aren’t still major issues that have to be confronted and worked through for authentic reconciliation to spill into our communities. Striving to empathize with pain is the path towards healing. Immediate dismissal of pain only worsens the hurt.
- In the public sphere, I’ll join the fight for justice and reconciliation
Our silence and inactivity in response to another’s pain communicates something. As one friend told me, “When the church won’t speak out or acknowledge my pain, I feel put in this place where I’m once again unrepresented and unheard, and the pain only compounds.” The question of when and where to speak out is a complex one, and it requires much wisdom. I’ve found myself increasingly asking these trusted friends when and how is the right time to act. But what’s not complex is that quiet apathy only further creates hurt and division. We also must be people of action.
These are troubling times, and yet, times of unique opportunity for the church to reflect that it’s in the darkest of days that the God of light shines the brightest. Let us humbly pursue this great chance to be a people of reconciliation in an age of division.
Denver, Colorado, is a cool city. What’s even cooler than the Broncos, Rockies, and a chill city-culture is the Kingdom work that is taking place in and around the city. We had the opportunity to connect with some church planters and pastors several weeks ago over lunch where we discussed some of the ins-and-outs of SBC life. It was an honest discussion. Several were encouraged about the direction of the SBC, in particular some of the recently filled positions of leadership and the commitment to engaging unengaged people groups and planting churches. Others felt disconnected and isolated from denominational life and to be honest, some were okay with this, while others wanted to be more involved.
One brother who recently planted a church and who also serves our military as a reservist wanted to know what steps and decisions are being made to be more mindful and sensitive to racial equality. We shared about some of the steps and decisions certain entities are intentionally taking to work towards being more ethnically diverse. He walked away encouraged. Communication was another subject that came up. One brother said, “We’d love to celebrate the wins in SBC life, but a lot of times we simply don’t know what’s going on.” Communication—yep, we can always do better in this department.
Overall, the tone of our time together was fruitful. Several brothers expressed gratitude to be able to engage with men such as Jon Akin (Director of Young Leader Engagement with the North American Mission Board) and Ashley Clayton (VP of Cooperative Program & Stewardship of the Executive Committee) – men who are committed to letting pastors and planters know that they’re not alone and we truly can do better together as we link arms. In fact, Nathan Lorick was in attendance too. Dr. Lorick serves as the new Executive Director for Colorado Baptists. He shared briefly at the end of our time together. His passion of working tirelessly for Colorado Baptists and making much of Jesus was not only apparent but contagious, too – it made us want to move to Colorado to be a part of the vision he’s casting!
All in all, we left encouraged for many reasons. One, we were able to meet and interact with almost 40 pastors and planters serving Jesus all across Colorado. Second, we had an honest, healthy discussion about ways in which we can improve. By God’s grace, may we (pastors, associations, state convention, and the national convention) never get to a place where we believe we’ve “arrived.” Let’s seek to engage one another to put Jesus for the sake of others.
Sedona, Arizona, offers arguably one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. It also boasts the reputation of being the New Age capital of North America. These are just two of the reasons I was amazed that the Lord would send me and my family of five across the country from South Carolina to plant Aletheia Church in Sedona. However, when we arrived there, my family found the little town of 16,000 to be most hospitable and ready to have conversations about spiritual things.
A small group began to meet in our home, and we were quickly faced with the challenge of finding space to launch a church. Sedona’s expansion is limited due to its being surrounded by National Forest land. This factor drives prices for existing venues very high. We felt blessed to make an agreement with Sedona’s Parks and Recreation Office to use a city space on Sunday mornings for worship. Yet only six months into our use of this facility, the City Council determined to give the space to a performing arts group which had no desire to partner with a Christian church.
We were unable to find a meeting space in local schools because they had too many events on the calendar. Storefronts came with too little space or too much cost. In this midst of this situation, the Lord reminded me of Crestview Community Church. Crestview is an SBC church recognized annually for their giving to the Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong missions offerings. Further, Crestview had donated supplies to serve the Lord’s Supper when Aletheia first launched, as well as offered me office space in their building.
I reached out to Ken Nickell, Crestview’s pastor, and we met for several discussions about how the logistics of our two churches meeting in their facilities might work. After both churches prayed and discussed it among our leadership, Crestview voted to host us in their facility. We are currently in our third year as ministry partners, and both congregations believe our situation to be honoring to the Lord, encouraging to both groups, and amazing to our community. Our people have held fellowships together, served one another, and celebrated baptisms together. The brotherhood between pastors and staff continues to grow and provide encouragement for the leaders of both congregations. Both churches are truly better together! [Read more…] about Better Together in Sedona
We have a compelling story. Who we are and what we’re about as Southern Baptists is in no way superior than any other faithful evangelical denomination or network, but I believe we are more effective than any other faithful evangelical denomination or network. The reason that I believe this is true is the Cooperative Program.
As Southern Baptists, we have always been a Great Commission network of churches. We began this way. In 1845, our denomination was organized for the purpose of “directing the energies of the whole denomination in one sacred effort, for the propagation of the gospel.(1)
What began with a few small churches has grown to over 45,000 churches! And to this day, we are still directing the financial energy of the whole denomination for the propagation of the gospel from your city to the end of the earth!
Recently, I returned to my alma mater to preach to the students at Boyce College on the campus of Southern Seminary. That night, I watched a chapel full of college students training for ministry declare the faithfulness of God through song. I was reminded of my own journey since making that decision to move to Boyce.
I was twenty years old and two years into community college in Knoxville, TN, when I heard about Boyce. I had been called to ministry at seventeen but wasn’t sure what that looked like. All I knew was I wanted to preach the gospel to students. So, when I heard that Boyce was the training spot for student pastors at this time, I knew I wanted to go, but I wasn’t sure what that meant for me and my family financially.
After researching tuition, I came to realize an incredible financial benefit; half of my tuition would be paid for by Southern Baptists through the Cooperative Program. This was incredible to a young man who desired to be trained in ministry but didn’t have the funds to pull the trigger. With this news and my parents’ blessing, I endeavored on a journey that would change my life.
The decision to move from Knoxville to Louisville completely changed the trajectory of my life. That one decision has walked me all the way to where I am today. Since then, I have completed two other degrees from Southern Seminary. Affordable theological education is one of the greatest investments the churches in the SBC make through the CP.
Right now, Boyce College is training over 1,000 college students for global gospel ministry. That doesn’t take into account the colleges that sit on the campuses of our other seminaries. That also doesn’t even consider the amount of seminary students we have currently training for ministry. We have approximately 21,000 students enrolled in our six seminaries. What an amazing effort towards the future propagation of the gospel!
Interestingly, while I was back at Boyce preaching this month, a friend of mine who serves with the International Mission Board in North Africa was in town. We sat down over dinner and caught up. He and his wife have four beautiful children and have been serving on the field for four years.
He shared with me about their struggles learning the language, learning the culture, making friends, and doing ministry. He also shared with me stories of the gospel bearing fruit in the lives of the locals. There were stories of Muslim men and women confessing Christ as Lord and the immediate familial rejections they would find themselves in. Stories of radical life change and immediate desires to grow through reading God’s Word. Stories that made all of their struggles worth it. [Read more…] about One Sacred Effort: Propagating the Gospel Together
What if every college student (Christian or not) had the opportunity to engage in or be engaged by a church plant during college? Imagine how individuals and families and nations would look if college students believed that starting new churches was the norm for all believers? Baptismal declines would reverse. Societies would pivot toward Christ, and the gospel would proliferate rapidly across the globe.
Increasingly, churches across the Southern Baptist Convention are recognizing the extreme value of launching churches on or near campuses. They see that college students are the most moldable, malleable, and movemental demographic today, and that students (compelled by the gospel) are awaiting for an invitation and pathway to leverage their lives for the expansion of God’s Kindgom.
For many, collegiate church planting is a novel term, and plenty of questions surround the concept: “Are college churches just for collegians?” “Are they just for Christians?” “Are they acceptable on campuses?” To help answer these questions and others like them, let’s take some space to unpack the biggest misconceptions around collegiate church planting and at the same time share some of the most exciting features of what could become a church planting movement.
Misconception #1: Collegiate churches are just for college students – In reality, most of the hundred collegiate churches we work with around North America range in composition from 30-90% college students. Rarely, a church will start 100% collegian, but as the founding group ages, so does the church. In reality, while collegiate churches start with a lot of collegians, most become community-focused churches within a decade or so. What sets collegiate churches apart from those who don’t become community churches is their commitment to remain focused on reaching lost collegians as long as the church exists.
Several times each year we offer a Membership Class at our church that outlines what it means to be a member, how we function as a church, what we believe, etc. One of the questions that we address each time because it is regularly raised is “Why do we choose to cooperate as a part of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)?” Here are a few reasons why we think we are Better Together:
A shared theological commitment
Local churches and church plants who cooperate with the SBC agree with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Depending on who you ask you may hear that this document is quite broad or that it is too narrow. However, I believe that this document provides a sound theological tent under which there can be significant theological differences along with the confidence that you are cooperating with truly like-minded churches around the country.
Centered in local, autonomous churches
The SBC is designed to be led not from the top, but from the bottom. It is designed to be led by local churches. These local churches, which are autonomous, make the decisions that lead rather than the decisions being made by a small group of people at the top. Every entity ultimately is accountable to local churches.
Missionary vision and entities [Read more…] about Why We Are a Cooperating Church