COOPERATIVE PROGRAM: The pulpit, the lectern & CP
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP) -- In November, I will celebrate 18 years pastoring the same church in Kansas City.
When God called me to my church, I was a master of divinity student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Because of my church's affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention, I received a steep tuition discount funded by the gifts of Southern Baptist churches through the Cooperative Program.
The benefits of our cooperative ministry soon extended beyond my studies at Midwestern.
My leadership transition was not the honeymoon that new pastors hope for. In my first two years of ministry, the director of missions of the Kansas City Kansas Baptist Association provided a listening ear, counsel and connections with other pastors in my area. The KCKBA's weekly Monday lunches with other pastors kept me from ditching the whole endeavor.
As our church began to grow, I initiated an increased commitment to the SBC, including Cooperative Program giving. We began to attend KCKBA meetings and support the CP on a monthly basis. We started to participate in offerings for the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board.
Just after my third anniversary at the church, the KCKBA director of missions invited me to join the association's executive board. In those meetings I began to appreciate Southern Baptist cooperation of all kinds at a deeper level. I was a part of passing budgets that helped to fund new churches, revitalize declining churches, support mission trips and assist orphans and widows.
The last year has presented the SBC with a number of challenges. Leadership transitions and cultural shifts have pressured the SBC as much as any time period in the last 30 years. I've led our church to lean in, increasing our monthly support of the CP to ensure that the ministry benefits we have enjoyed are available to other churches as well.
Since 2013, I have taught in some capacity at Midwestern Seminary, now entering my third year as a member of the faculty. My appreciation for the CP has grown with each passing semester.
When I look out at the faces in my classes or speak with students in online courses, I encounter students laboring to make ends meet while devoting themselves to their courses. I remind them that though times are tight for them during these years of seminary, without the Cooperative Program their tuition would be far more than its current rate. For many students at Baptist colleges and seminaries, tuition costs would be out of reach if not for the CP.
And we faculty and students enjoy comfortable and beautiful environments of study. The campus transformation at Midwestern in the last three years, for example, is a testimony to God's kindness and the generosity of many donors. But without the CP, student tuition would increase to the detriment of MBTS and Southern Baptist churches. We would likely have fewer students to teach, or the students who could afford tuition might be forced to move through their degree programs more slowly, delaying the impact they would have on local churches.
The Cooperative Program
But the CP is not just about money. It is rather the financial expression of a spirit of partnership that is to characterize all believers.
The description of the generosity of the Jerusalem church in Acts 2:44-45 and 4:32 rests in a broader description of church community that is antecedent to cooperation. The same can be said about the apostle Paul's thanks to the Philippians for their generosity (Philippians 4:1-10). Their financial support was a natural result of the partnership Paul enjoyed with that church -- as he describes throughout Philippians 1-2.
From the lectern and the pulpit, I've seen the CP grow as the lifeblood of new churches all over the globe. As I know I am not alone, I hope and believe that the best days of the CP are still ahead of us. In a time when the SBC is responding to challenges, I suggest that Southern Baptists find new and more frequent ways to participate in our cooperative missions and ministry.