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Coppenger to grads: Remember ‘the peril of those at sea’

LIBERTY, Mo. (BP)–“You have to go out. You don’t have to come back,” Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Mark Coppenger said, drawing on the slogan of the former U.S. Life-Saving Service to challenge the seminary’s 86 graduates to demonstrate a similar spirit as they minister in the years ahead.
In May 17 commencement exercises held at William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo., the graduates and guests heard Coppenger tell of the heroic rescues performed by the sailors who served in the organization that predated the U.S. Coast Guard. While visiting a maritime museum in Anacostia, Ore., in January, Coppenger learned the meaning of the U.S. Live-Saving Service slogan.
“Your decision to cast out into the surf is based not on calculations of your own safety, but on the peril of those at sea,” Coppenger said. “There are no guarantees that you will make it back. Never mind that. You have to attempt the rescue.”
Making a devotional analogy, Coppenger said, “In serving God, in answering his call, ‘We have to go out. We don’t have to come back.'” He clarified that “going out” can cover any faithful response to God’s leading, to include “staying put or preaching a certain sermon.”
“We don’t need a solid calculation of consequent fame, financial security, camaraderie and success before we say yes to God,” Coppenger said.
The slogan reflects “the sort of spirit that drove Isaiah to say, ‘Here am I. Send me,’ before hearing what ‘package’ the Lord had for him,” Coppenger said, noting it was the same spirit that compelled Abraham to get up and go to a place yet to be revealed and spurred Paul to go over into Macedonia without any promise of physical safety or comfort.
“It is, I fear, a spirit that dwindles in our day,” Coppenger said. “Professionalism and careerism are eating up the abandon of the early church.” Too often, a willingness to answer a call depends on its passing a “grid of druthers,” he said, which include “income; schools; proximity to family; obvious growth potential.” As a result, the slogan is turned into, “You don’t have to go out. You have to come back.”
And while it is not considered strange for a doctor making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to surrender to medical missions, taking a 90 percent cut in pay and comfort to serve the Lord in unevangelized regions, Coppenger expressed concern that ministers who remain in the homeland accept a double standard.
“Do foreign missionaries have one spiritual economy and the ministers back home work as mercenaries, hired guns available to the best bidder? If we are mercenaries, then there is just the one call, the call to ministry. After that, we’re on our entrepreneurial own, credentialling, positioning and publicizing ourselves to the best of our abilities.”
Citing Midwestern’s mission “to educate God’s servants to biblically evangelize and congregationalize the Midwest/Great Plains region,” Coppenger ask God to stir the spirit of the U.S. Life-Saving Service in the hearts of the seminary’s graduates and students.

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  • Tammi Ledbetter