EDITOR'S NOTE: Cooperative Program Sunday is April 22 in the Southern Baptist Convention.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- Recognizing the drain frequent financial requests made on the churches, our Baptist forbears in the opening decades of the 20th century hammered out a plan that recognized and sought to address this problem.
The plan was remarkably simple -- 1) individuals give their tithes and offerings to their local churches; 2) the churches forward a percentage of their contributions to their state Baptist convention for ministry in the state; and 3) the state convention then forwards a percentage of its funds to provide support for SBC ministries.
Leaders of Southern Baptist Convention ministries and leaders of state Baptist ministries realized the churches that were being asked to fund the ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention were the same churches being asked to support the ministries of individual state Baptist conventions. Inundated with so many requests from so many legitimate ministries, pastors and churches alike grew weary.
Through a unified, cooperative program of giving, both sets of ministries could be funded -- state ministry needs and ministry endeavors of the Southern Baptist Convention. This plan, formulated was formally adopted in 1925 and called "the Cooperative Program of Southern Baptists."
By definition, the "Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists' unified plan of giving through which cooperating Southern Baptist churches give a percentage of their undesignated receipts in support of their respective state convention and the Southern Baptist Convention missions and ministries."
As faithful stewards give of their tithes and offerings through their local churches, they partner with other Southern Baptist Christians to accomplish Kingdom-sized ministries, including:
-- Two of the world's largest missionary-sending entities -- the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board -- are equipped and resourced to deploy some 10,000 missionaries across the nation and around the world.
-- Hundreds of new churches are planted annually in major cities and among multiple ethnic, racial and language groups in the United States through a collaboration of local church, associational, state convention and SBC efforts.
-- More than 16,000 future church leaders are trained in the largest theological seminary consortium in the United States.
-- Tens of thousands of college students are reached with and for the Gospel through Baptist Collegiate Ministry, the largest campus ministry organization in America.
-- Thousands of children are fed and housed through children's homes ministries in multiple states.
-- More than 1,600 mobile disaster relief teams, scattered across the states, constituting one of the three largest relief organizations in the United States, are trained and on alert for deployment whenever a natural disaster strikes the United States.
The synergy of cooperative ministry is incalculable.
In the book of Nehemiah, two things stand out in the historical narrative of rebuilding the city wall around Jerusalem following the Babylonian exile. First, the people had a plan to work (Nehemiah 2:11-4:23). Each person had a role to play, but it was only through cooperation that they were able to accomplish their goal. Second, the people had a mind to work (Nehemiah 4:6). Once they set their minds to the task at hand, nothing was able to deter them from accomplishing their goal. As Nehemiah's story wonderfully illustrates, we each can accomplish so much more when we work together -- cooperating for the purpose of penetrating lostness, making disciples and evangelizing the nations with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Roger S. (Sing) Oldham is vice president for communications and convention relations for the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee.