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.
TIMMONSVILLE, S.C. (BP)–Stan Sullivan learned early in his pastorate at Sparrow Swamp Baptist Church that money follows missions.
He heard it first in 1992 from Carlisle Driggers, then executive director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, and stepped out on faith in making the church as “mission-active” as it was “mission-minded,” even as the community was suffering financially from Hurricane Hugo.
“Giving that cup of cold water in His name and not expecting anything in return,” is Sullivan’s description of missions. “Our focus is on meeting needs and demonstrating to them the love of Christ.”
Sullivan credits the church’s success to “being sensitive to God’s call, being responsive to His leadership and being faithful in the call that He’s given us.”
Sullivan has always appreciated missions, having grown up in a missions-oriented church.
His church gives more than 21 percent of its undesignated offerings to the Southern Baptist Cooperative Program, while also supporting area, national and foreign missions through faith-based giving outside the official budget.
The Cooperative Program pools contributions from the Southern Baptist Convention’s more than 42,000 churches in support of local, national and global missions and ministries.
“In my opinion, the Cooperative Program is the best model that has been incorporated in meeting missions needs,” Sullivan said. “Since our church would be considered a small church … there is no way that we could support more than 10,000 missionaries, six seminaries, three Baptist Colleges, etc.
“The mandate that Christ left us to ‘go, therefore,’ can best be fulfilled through this cooperation.”
Sparrow Swamp Baptist takes part in mission trips and has a partnership with a registered church in China that Sullivan has visited four of the past five years.
Sullivan tells a story of a couple in China who was embarrassed by the Buddhist images in their home when he prayed with them. But on a return visit, he found the idols removed and the family converted to Christianity.
“We did pray and God moved in many ways,” Sullivan said, his church encouraged by the “knowledge that we have participated in the salvation of souls halfway around the world.”
None of the mission trips, he said, are budgeted.
“They are all done on a faith-based basis,” he said. “When we total all of our missions giving, for the past several years, between 30 and 33 percent of money that comes to the church goes back out in missions and ministry.”
The church has sent Sullivan and others to China, Taiwan and Romania on several occasions since 1996 and participates in local and regional outreach.
“God continues to provide. Money follows missions,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan promotes mission outreach to the congregation, schedules two North American and one international trip annually, and brings in at least one missionary a year to speak to the church’s approximately 225 resident members.
Sparrow Swamp housed a Chinese pastor in its parsonage for two years in the 1990s and has trained seminary students in international missions.
Locally, the church sponsors a Christmas outreach to underprivileged children in Florence, S.C., and has given 150 bikes and $40,000 in food and gifts since 1995 in this effort, representatives with the church say.
Through the Tennessee Baptist Appalachian Regional Ministries, the church has conducted backyard Bible clubs, evangelism and prayer walks, and has completed home repairs and construction needs for families and children.
At the Love Kitchen feeding ministry in Knoxville, Tenn., the church, since 2000, has prepared some 16,000 meals for those who are homeless, homebound or needing help Sullivan said.
Diana Chandler is a freelance writer in New Orleans.