EMPOWER ’23: Barber outlines CP’s history, need for continued sacrificial giving during luncheon

IRVING—Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, challenged 450 attendees at the Empower Conference’s Cooperative Program luncheon on Tuesday to continue the tradition of cooperation begun among Baptists during the 1800s.

“I’m not going to preach today,” announced Barber, who moments earlier had concluded giving the message to close the conference’s morning session. During that message, Barber called Jesus “amazing” and said He can use the Cooperative Program to advance kingdom causes in a tremendous way.

“I love what we do together,” he said.

Noting the Cooperative Program will mark its 100th year in two years, Barber launched into a brief history that included its earliest iterations through the missionary efforts of William Carey, Adoniram Judson, and Luther Rice. Judson and Rice raised support among congregationalists for foreign missionaries, he said, only to see that support collapse when they became Baptists. Judson’s missionary efforts in Burma became legendary.

Cooperative Program roots

Barber said Southern Baptists existed for 80 years before the Cooperative Program was formed. From the ashes of the Civil War, God inspired Southern Baptists to combine funds and send missionaries to Brazil, China, and even Italy.

“We were going to storm hell with a water pistol … and get all those Catholics to become Baptists,” Barber said with a chuckle of the early Italian missionary efforts. “There was no Cooperative Program, but there was cooperation.”

During the early 20th century, messengers at the 1919 annual meeting took the initiative to start an unprecedented effort called the 75 Million Campaign. The 75 Million Campaign ensured that churches established a means for churches to give in support of local and global ministry.

“God started to move among Southern Baptists to dream that they could do something that reached a little further,” Barber said. Before the campaign, messengers brought money to the annual meeting from their churches: an allocation for the Foreign Mission Board, a separate amount for the Home Mission Board, and funds for the seminaries.

“We came to a point where we said, ‘We are serious about this. Every church in the convention is going to make a plan for our people, for our finances … a plan that is bigger than us, that reaches out to people who don’t live near us, that don’t look like us, that don’t speak the same language,’” Barber said.

The 75 Million Campaign raised $93 million in pledges. Barber noted the extensive involvement of Texas Baptists in the foundation of the CP, including Pastor J.B. Gambrell of Fort Worth.

“Money comes when people trust and are inspired by the work of the Great Commission. That’s what fuels cooperation among Southern Baptists,” Barber said.

From China to Cuba to Brazil, news of how campaign funds were used to bring people to Christ encouraged Southern Baptists. State conventions began to cooperate with the SBC and with one another, and “all our churches came together in this rope of sand with the strength of steel” by which we are able to support the work of the SBC, he said.

His church, FBC Farmersville, has chosen to give 10 percent of its undesignated receipts to CP and called it “healthy” for churches: “We are doing it because we think it is a great investment in the work of the Great Commission around the world.”

That cooperation is not only financial, he said, but also involves cooperation in prayer, dialogue, and the work of the convention.

Get involved

Barber urged involvement with the SBC, noting that officers like himself are volunteers, as are those who serve on the various national committees. For example, elected members of the Executive Committee are volunteers. For these, cooperation is more than writing a check, but giving time, and Barber challenged attendees to “lean in” to CP with their best efforts.

He also addressed, briefly, two SBC national controversies: the recent disaffiliation of Saddleback Church by the SBC EC over the issue of female pastors, and the recommendation by the SBC’s Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force to retain Guidepost Solutions to manage an abuser database.

Barber noted the criticism regarding those decisions and challenged the audience to become involved in solutions: “If you’ve got the time and the expertise to criticize, maybe you’ve got the time and the expertise to help.” He added that he trusts the Holy Spirit who inspired Adoniram Judson so many years ago to continue to guide the cooperation of Southern Baptists.

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