EDITOR’S NOTE: In recognition of the SBC’s October emphasis on the Cooperative Program, Baptist Press will provide readers with extra news and information detailing the scope and depth of the Cooperative Program and its impact for the Kingdom. Using vignettes and profiles of churches and individuals, as well as historical and ongoing accounts, our intent is to explain the Cooperative Program not just as a funding channel but as one of the critical ties that bind Southern Baptists in voluntary fellowship for cooperative ministries and missions.
TYLER, Texas (BP)–I am thrilled with the emphasis that the Southern Baptist Convention has placed on a Great Commission Resurgence. I’m praying for Ronnie Floyd and the blue-ribbon GCR Task Force as they seek ways to increase our effectiveness in fulfilling the Great Commission. I’m more convinced than ever that the best channel for funding our global mission enterprise is the Cooperative Program. Because I’m passionate about the Great Commission, I’m also a champion for the Cooperative Program.
When I graduated from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1977, I was blessed to serve a small but vibrant congregation in Tallassee, Ala. Tallaweka Baptist Church ran about 100 in Sunday School, and these folks were some of the sweetest, most generous Christians I’ve ever known. Even with a small budget, we gave 10 percent through the Cooperative Program. We didn’t have the people or money to participate in short-term mission projects — most of the members worked at a local textile mill and had little time to devote to mission trips. However, because of our support of the Cooperative Program, our congregation felt we were a vital part of the worldwide mission efforts of the Southern Baptist Convention. There was no way our congregation could provide financial support for even a single missionary family (they could barely support the pastor and his family!), but we were happy to participate in supporting thousands of missionaries through the Cooperative Program.
Fast-forward 32 years and I’m now blessed to serve a large and vibrant congregation in Tyler, Texas, called Green Acres Baptist Church. With total receipts last year of more than $19 Million, we could theoretically support a large group of missionaries ourselves, but we choose to support missionaries through the Cooperative Program. Each year, we send almost one thousand of our members on short-term mission projects, but we never rob the Cooperative Program to fund these direct mission projects.
In 1996, our church embarked on a $28 million project to construct a new 3,200-seat worship center. I didn’t want us to lose our focus on missions, so I challenged our church to increase the percentage of our Cooperative Program giving half a percent a year until we reached 15 percent of our undesignated offerings. That doesn’t make sense from the world’s perspective, but when we moved into our new worship center in 2001, we were giving 15 percent through the Cooperative Program — and God enabled us to occupy this new building debt free.
In 2006, we launched a $40 million expansion project to add 200,000 square feet of additional space and add much-needed parking. I challenged our congregation again to give the first $1.5 Million we received in this campaign for missions, and that’s what we did. We will complete this project next summer, and I’m expecting God to do another miracle. Last year, God enabled us to give $1,825,736 to missions through the Cooperative Program. Even in these tough economic times, we have concluded each budget year with a surplus. I share this information to support my belief that holds true for churches as well as for individuals: YOU CANNOT OUTGIVE GOD.
As a member of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, my heart fell last year when we were forced to cut the budget of the International Mission Board. (And this was after Dr. Jerry Rankin shared with us about the hundreds of thousands of conversions God is orchestrating in foreign lands. He also shared that we have qualified missionary candidates ready to go and places where they are needed, but we just don’t have the money.)
We should never forget that most churches in the SBC are more like Tallaweka than Green Acres, Prestonwood, or Bellevue. They need us and we need them. In order for the Great Commission to be fulfilled, we all need the Cooperative Program. This isn’t a time to forsake the Cooperative Program; it’s a time to enlarge it.
It isn’t a sacred cow — it’s a channel. I’ve often thought of it as the Panama Canal of missions support. When the French had failed after 13 years (and the death of 22,000 workers) to dig the canal, the U.S. took over the project in 1904. The U.S. finished the canal in 1914, two years ahead of schedule. Since that time, billions of dollars have been saved because ships have sailed straight from the Caribbean into the Pacific without sailing around Cape Horn on the southern tip of South America. Our old societal method of supporting missions was like sailing around Cape Horn. Thank God for our spiritual forefathers who dug the trench for the Cooperative Program. Now it’s the Panama Canal of missions support, and other denominations envy its effectiveness.
However, the Panama Canal is only 110 feet wide, and many modern ships are now too wide to fit through the locks. By 2011, it is estimated that 40 percent of the ships on the sea will be too wide to fit through the Canal. Are they doing away with the Canal? No. Plans are being made now to enlarge the locks to handle the modern supertankers. That’s my challenge to Southern Baptists. May we never go back to the old way of sailing around Cape Horn to support missions. Neither should we be limited by the past. Let’s find a way to go in and dynamite the channel so it can be greatly enlarged to carry the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the Earth!
David O. Dykes is pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas.