Several years ago I lived in a town with a large institutional independent Baptist church. It was a good evangelistic church, and my kids went to a couple of events over there. Driving by, I recognized the logo they were using; it was the SBC logo (cross, Bible, globe) without the globe. I chuckled at the statement they were unintentionally making about the difference between Baptists who have formulated channels of cooperation and those who cooperate more fitfully and less strategically. Not to say that this good church and its sister independents didn’t do missions, but they did it in the way Southern Baptists found wanting early in our history.
Flash forward a couple of decades. Arguably, many of our churches seem to admire the success of that church—its size, selection of ministries, modern facility and professional staff—more than they admire the cooperative ministry of our convention. As I thought about the cooperation and partnership of our churches, some key concepts rose to the top. Are these values of your church? Should they be?
Participation: This is part of the dictionary definition of “partnership,” a synonym really. How does your church participate in strategic global evangelism? All three of those words are important. Our missions efforts are strategic if they result from a broad consideration of priorities rather than something less formal like supporting missionaries who grew up in our church. Our mission is global if it aids evangelism in several places around the country and world. And of course there is not much reason to go or send or give if the ministry is not intended to tell the good news of Christ to all who will hear. Yet, thousands of our SBC churches do not participate to any degree in Southern Baptist missions. For one reason or another, small size, lack of resources or disinterest in the denomination, some are not involved in missions by any means.
Common effort and benefit: Built into the idea of cooperation is that our work and its fruit become corporate, “ours” rather than “mine.” A legal definition of partnership emphasizes the advantage combined skills and assets. The strengths of our churches could be compared to the giftedness of individual believers. Look at Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-19 for a discussion of how disparate parts of a larger body work together for a common purpose. The contrasting idea to common effort emphasizes the efforts of individual believers or an individual church. These are certainly significant, but for 90 percent of our churches, it’s difficult for solitary efforts to be
Submission to a common purpose: Cooperation demands that the individual parties do not each control the work of the body. The work is directed, but it is not controlled or branded by one partner. Our churches are an example of this. My church is not called the “Gary Ledbetter Baptist Church,” even though I serve there as I am able, because my exaltation is not the appropriate mission of that congregation—it’s not why I serve or why hundreds of us congregate each week. A group of churches working together must be willing to let the purpose be more prominent than the acclaim of the partners. The leaders of those churches must be willing to let someone other than themselves make some decisions that direct the overall work.
Commitment to the whole gospel message: Again, I don’t disrespect the ministries of churches that find other ways of addressing the Great Commission, though I do question the advantages of those methods over our Cooperative Program. A New Testament church must address people beyond its own horizon in order to fulfill its commission. Most Baptists outside the SBC, and some within, have discovered that cooperation with other churches bears great fruit in this effort. I would ask my brethren to consider whether the channel they use is the best channel for cooperation in ministry rather just their own channel, or the newest channel.
Encouragement of our sister churches: I have preached at some really small churches in the Midwest and in Texas. It is a kick to see the looks on their faces when I point out that thousands of churches are preaching the same gospel as they are at this time on Sunday. It’s a revelation when they realize that thousands of people around the world have heard the gospel and believed because they participate in partnership through the Cooperative Program. In fact, the partnership with larger churches with nice facilities and a professional staff makes what I tell these small, average, Southern Baptist churches true. Your church, if it’s larger, and my church share in the joy of these brothers across the country because we are willing to do missions with them. This matters, friends, and we don’t think of it often enough.
This not a thorough treatment of cooperation, but these points seem to be significant as we consider how we do missions. We have a lot of options these days. I challenge you to consider the character, fruit and effectiveness of the particular means you use in fulfilling the Great Commission.