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COOPERATIVE PROGRAM: Working together in the name of Jesus

HOUSTON (BP) — Although the flooding from Hurricane Harvey damaged approximately 35,000 square feet of our church in Houston, Sagemont Church, relief efforts first focused on those outside the church.

But after about a week, the church asked for volunteers to help remove the damaged carpet. People started meeting at 2 p.m., but after an attempt to find masks at the hardware store, my wife, oldest daughter and I didn’t arrive until about 2:20.

We walked in eager to help but as we searched room after room for a place to work, it seemed there was nothing left to do.

Within a few minutes, one of the leaders called everyone together. Much to his surprise, all of the carpet had been removed in short order — 35,000 square feet in less than half an hour. He decided to go ahead and begin the next stage, tearing out the sheetrock halfway up the walls. Even without all the proper tools, within two more hours almost all the work was done, and the dumpsters were full.

I never heard a number, but I would guess 200-300 volunteers were there that afternoon. Since our church has several thousand people who attend each week, acquiring 200-300 volunteers is not a shocking number.

But in many churches in the Southern Baptist Convention, there are not even 200 people total. Were those churches to attempt such a mammoth task by themselves, it would be impossible within the same time frame.

But there’s more to the story.

The SBC has long understood the power of cooperation. What would be impossible for one church becomes possible when churches work together. Churches from all over the country have sent teams to help flood survivors, and those who couldn’t come in person have sent funds or supplies.

But it doesn’t stop there. Long before Harvey was even a thought, many churches, perhaps even your church, set aside funds to help in a time of disaster by giving to the Cooperative Program.

As necessary as it is to tear out wet carpet and sheetrock, there are other tasks that are far more important. Who is going to share the Gospel with people around the world who have never heard the name of Jesus? Who is going to train the missionaries? Who is going to teach people to share God’s unchanging Word in an increasingly complex world? Who is going to speak to world leaders about issues of justice from a biblical perspective?

You are.

You’re not going to do it by yourself, and you may not yet be the one in the trenches, but if your church participates in the Cooperative Program, you are sharing the load.

Southern Baptists understand the power of cooperation. Indeed, this is one of the most admired facets of the SBC. Far better than asking missionaries to raise their own support, the Cooperative Program allows churches from all over the country to work together in missions and evangelism.

More than 73 percent of the 2016-2017 CP budget supports missions, a small portion of which goes to disaster relief through the North American Mission Board. The Cooperative Program also supports theological education, designating slightly more than 22 percent of the budget to this task. Just as few would dare take their car to an untrained mechanic or entrust their bodies to a doctor without medical training, supporting theological education affirms the training of ministers who are speaking to issues of everlasting significance. And in the spirit of cooperation, the seminaries gladly declare that it’s not the seminary or the church. It’s both. Together. Cooperating.

Just under 3 percent of the budget covers operating expenses of the convention (compare that to other organizations) and the final 1.65 percent of the budget supports ethics and religious liberty issues. Rather than sitting on our hands to see how fallen people will influence governing leaders, the Cooperative Program helps people who believe God’s Word to seek the welfare of our country.

It’s not just small churches who need to cooperate. Even very large churches do not have all of the resources necessary to accomplish the wide array of tasks that have been assigned by God. Even if they did, could they not accomplish them much more effectively by working together?

As we join together to accomplish God-given tasks, we imitate the pattern of the early church. What distinguishes us is not just the spirit of cooperation (the world has that in a time of crisis), but cooperation in the name of Jesus directed by Jesus to accomplish tasks that were given to us by Jesus.

Does your church support the Cooperative Program? Why not find out? Has its giving taken an inward turn or does it still place a large focus on these shared ministries?

By cooperating together in our work and our giving, we can accomplish great tasks for our great God.

    About the Author

  • David Hutchison

    David Hutchison is associate professor of New Testament at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s J. Dalton Havard School for Theological Studies in Houston. He also teaches seminary classes at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Darrington Unit. This article first appeared at Southwestern’s Theological Matters website (www.theologicalmatters.com).

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