EDITOR’S NOTE: In recognition of the Southern Baptist Convention’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.
FARGO, N.D. (BP)–Pastoring on the distant plains of North Dakota for almost 30 years, I am far from the heartbeat of Southern Baptist life. Nevertheless, I have watched Cooperative Program dollars at work in a multitude of places. It connects me to Southern Baptists around the world in an inspiring vision of ministry together.
First as a part of the Northern Plains Baptist Convention, later as a board member and president of the Dakota Southern Baptist Fellowship, and even more recently as executive board chairman of the Dakota Baptist Convention it has been my privilege to work alongside some wonderful men and women of God. These leaders came to the Dakotas, using their gifts to strengthen churches, meet needs and serve their Savior. Often they sacrificed family ties, retirement ease, visits with grandchildren, opportunities for greater advancement and the comforts of their own hometowns to serve God alongside those of us who call the Dakotas home.
That sacrificial service is made possible in part because we Southern Baptists have put our money into united ministry through the Cooperative Program. Some may think the Cooperative Program is about money, but to me it is first about people — people who serve God in places where most never go.
Second, in my years of observation, the Cooperative Program is about partnership ministry. People I have never met partner with us in the Dakotas to touch Native Americans, Asians, Scandinavians, cowboys, college professors, children, moms, farmers, business men, students, pastors’ wives, school teachers, ranchers and oilfield workers across these great northern plains. And, better yet, these are not just one-time touches, but they continue year in and year out to make a difference in families and schools, rural towns and urban cities, among the rich and the poor, so that God’s people — working together — can accomplish far more than one might dream possible. Just as Jesus multiplied the boy’s lunch to feed thousands, He still multiplies Cooperative Program gifts to accomplish amazing ministry.
Finally, I see that the Cooperative Program is also about involvement. Following Jesus is for participants, not spectators. It is for missionaries, not entertainers. It is for givers, not users. Living such a life drives us to find tools for outreach. Southern Baptist visionaries in past generations developed this great tool of outreach, the Cooperative Program, so that every church and every church member can be deeply involved. Sacrificial giving is an essential discipline for an individual Christian, but it is also essential for each church. Right-thinking Christians seek out ways to be involved in ministry, and the Cooperative Program gives Southern Baptists a far-reaching way to be involved in serving Jesus.
On a recent Sunday our church hosted missionaries Paul and Sarah Young. Paul is the pastor of Dakota Baptist Church on the Spirit Lake Dakotah Nation Native American Reservation near Fort Totten, N.D. It was an inspiring evening as this young missionary couple told us about their ministry, about their lives and about their neighbors on the reservation. I have a special connection with that church. Over 25 years ago, I was the pastor of First Baptist Church in Devils Lake, N.D., as we helped Wilbert and Judy Robertson begin a new church there on Wilbert’s home reservation. That mission became Dakota Baptist Church. Then, when the Robertsons moved to begin work at another reservation in South Dakota, we stood with Lon Cockerill, the next pastor of Dakota Baptist (Lon is now our mission pastor here in Fargo). Now, to see that ministry grow as Paul and Sarah give leadership there brings me great delight. I have a genuine share in what God is doing on the Spirit Lake Reservation, a real “piece of the action.” That same joy can belong to every giver who hears reports of what God is doing through the Cooperative Program. It is our reach together around the world.
Durward Garrett has been the pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Fargo, N.D., since 1987.