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.
NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Word of mouth can be effective.
Since January, Unlimited Partnerships (UP) has become a word-of-mouth student-led channel communicating the vision and potential of the Cooperative Program (CP) to fellow students at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and area churches.
“I wanted the Cooperative Program to be as cool as Facebook and Twitter to the next generation of Southern Baptist ministers,” UP founder Bill Taylor said. “They value Facebook and Twitter because it helps them communicate, and in a sense, the Cooperative Program also is a communications tool.”
Unlimited Partnerships is an independent entity that connects NOBTS students in a three-way partnership -– with New Orleans-area churches that would benefit from having a second staff minister and with churches in other parts of the nation that provide UP students with financial and mentorship support.
Bill Taylor designed Unlimited Partnerships to provide assistance to the many churches that were weakened by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as well as to provide an avenue of salaried ministry opportunities for students. But earlier this year, UP also became a student-driven advocate for the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ method of putting love in action by supporting the missions and ministries of state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention. Taylor, retired from LifeWay Christian Resources, leads UP from his home near Nashville, Tenn.
“We encourage UP students to tell the stories and not just the statistics of what God is doing through the Cooperative Program,” said Bethany Hales, a UP associate at NOBTS. “We believe behind every number is a story, and we want people to see those stories….
“[W]e want to do everything we can to support [CP] so that people are aware of all we can do together through our cooperative efforts,” Hales said.
At NOBTS, Unlimited Partnerships hosts a free luncheon each month where seminary students and professors can learn more about the impact and potential of CP, with UP students facilitating the conversation. In addition, some seminary students have become part of a speakers’ bureau for speaking in classes and area churches about the Cooperative Program.
The way that Baptists “pull resources together and send people out” through the Cooperative Program has had a direct impact on Stefanie Foxworth, who, though not a UP student, trained to be part of the UP speakers’ bureau. “I wouldn’t have been able to serve as a Journeyman [with the International Mission Board] and do missions without the Cooperative Program. I wouldn’t be able to go to seminary without the financial support of the Cooperative Program.”
Foxworth takes aim at materialism, advocating, for example, cutting back on lattes. “Giving up just one latte a week would be about $12 in a month for missions, or about $150 in a year,” she said.
J Cardinell, a UP minister of education at Bay Vista Baptist Church in Biloxi, Miss., also is a member of the speakers’ bureau.
“We remind them about the money that came from the Cooperative Program to help rebuild the seminary after Katrina,” Cardinell said. “And after seminary, many of the students will be on the mission field, so we remind them that the Cooperative Program supports the missions endeavors of the Southern Baptist Convention.
“Really, we’re just reminding students why they need to be a champion for the Cooperative Program in their local church,” Cardinell continued. “The Cooperative Program is the glue that holds the SBC together. The Cooperative Program is really what makes us who we are, a denomination that works together. It’s vital to missions and our state conventions.”
NOBTS has been extremely supportive of UP’s efforts to publicize CP, Hales said, noting that a Cooperative Program video is shown before every chapel.
“The seminary is a partner in this with us. We could not do this without the support of the seminary. Dr. [Steve] Lemke [NOBTS provost] is a huge supporter and help. Our professors love the Cooperative Program. Our president, Dr. [Chuck] Kelley, spoke on it last week in chapel. It’s a privilege to partner with the seminary to help our students gain a better understanding of and appreciation for the Cooperative Program.”
In sync with Unlimited Partnerships’ purpose statement of training leaders to effectively serve churches, Hales said: “How better can we do that than to promote the Cooperative Program and teach our students, these young leaders, how to help their churches understand this opportunity for missions that they are able to be a part of?”
All the UP students — about 30 this semester — spoke in October about CP in the churches where they minister, Hales said. This involved showing a CP video, sharing a brief testimony, planning a CP Celebration day.
“To me, one of the best things about being Southern Baptist is the Cooperative Program,” said Hales, who was reared in the home of a Southern Baptist pastor who today is an area missionary in northern Louisiana. “[Through CP] we are able to send out more missionaries and support them better than any other group through the Cooperative Program. We plant more churches and help more people through CP than any of us could do alone.”
The six seminaries in the Southern Baptist Convention — New Orleans, Southwestern, Midwestern, Southeastern, Southern and Golden Gate — in a financial formula approved by messengers to the SBC’s annual meetings, receive 22.16 percent of the CP dollars. This helps keep tuition low. SBC students at NOBTS pay $145 per credit hour for the first nine hours. At Dallas Theological Seminary, by comparison, students pay from $375 to $465 per credit hour, based on the number of hours taken, according to both seminaries’ websites.
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.