NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–When it was explained, it made sense.
This was the sentiment from Southern Baptist seminary students across the nation who recently chimed in with their observations about the Cooperative Program.
“I have increased my personal giving to missions since I was introduced to the Cooperative Program,” said Issa Haddad, a Jordanian student at Southern California Seminary, which is affiliated with Shadow Mountain Community Church, a San Diego-area Southern Baptist congregation. “I had no background on the Cooperative Program whatsoever, but when it was explained to me, it made sense.
“At first I thought the SBC received all of this money from churches [and] probably the money is being used in administrative costs,” Haddad said. “But learning that only a small amount goes to administrative work, and the rest goes to the different ministries that the SBC supports — missionaries, seminaries, planting churches…. — I see the impact of the CP. And the extent of the CP reach is far more than we can imagine, or than one or a group of churches can do or can imagine to do.”
The rolling conversation started with a group of students from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Southern California Seminary who, during spring break, toured the offices of the SBC Executive Committee, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville and the North American Mission Board in metro Atlanta.
The 10 students who joined Haddad gave similar comments about what some of them had known since childhood -– and what was brand-new to others. The Cooperative Program’s reach was spread out before them in the faces of the people they talked with, including Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee, and in the examples of CP gifts at work.
Haddad and the other students are part of the Unlimited Partnerships program, ministering in a support role at a church in the New Orleans or San Diego area through a stipend paid by an out-of-area church.
Bobby Wood, a New Orleans Theological Seminary student who started out in life as an independent Baptist, joined the Southern Baptist-related Baptist Collegiate Ministries group at his secular college, serving one summer as a BCM missionary in Burley, Idaho in youth and children’s ministries.
“I didn’t pay one cent for that trip, all thanks to the Cooperative Program,” said Wood, another Unlimited Partnerships participant. “It was really during that summer that I saw firsthand what the SBC was unified by, and that was taking the truth of God’s Word and proclaiming it to all peoples and all nations. Because of that summer and the following summers working for the South Carolina Baptist Convention, I learned that the Cooperative Program took care of IMB, NAMB, seminaries.
“My respect [for the Southern Baptist Convention] grew even more after going to a convention [annual meeting] myself and realizing that everyone has a voice, no matter how big or how small their church is,” Wood continued. “I was amazed at how many churches were connected, and also that the one thing that connected each church to the others was the Cooperative Program.”
Beyond the Unlimited Partnerships participants, Garrett Wishall, a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, joined the conversation via e-mail.
“I first heard about the Cooperative Program during my first semester” in the fall of 2005, Wishall wrote. “Southern requires first semester students to take a course on the Cooperative Program. As I learned about the history of the Southern Baptist Convention’s missions funding efforts, I began to see the value of the Cooperative Program. Instead of having various entities coming into local churches and competing for local church funds, the Cooperative Program enables a unity of purpose and effort that releases competitive tension.
“With the Cooperative Program, my seminary education is substantially more affordable,” Wishall continued. “Most importantly, with the Cooperative Program, thousands of missionaries can be funded in both North America and across the world, freeing them to focus on the task of making disciples of all nations. One [non-SBC] missionary family who is a friend of my family is in the midst of an extended hiatus from their missions work in Mexico because they have not been able to retain the financial support they need to serve as missionaries. With the Cooperative Program, this problem is solved.
“As someone who did not grow up in the Southern Baptist Convention, I was not aware that this type of extensive cooperation among autonomous local churches existed,” Wishall wrote. “The Cooperative Program is one excellent way for such local churches to work together for the purpose of training faithful Gospel ministers and making disciples of all nations.”
The first time Kenneth Seal heard about the Cooperative Program, he was in Royal Ambassadors, a missions education program in many Southern Baptist churches. Today as an Unlimited Partnerships student at New Orleans Seminary, Seal said he is a strong advocate of the Cooperative Program.
“The CP is a wonderful way for churches to unite in the cause for Christ,” Seal said. “It helps smaller churches take part in worldwide missions. It also helps churches avoid being isolated or insulated by self-interest.
“The CP not only unites churches in reaching millions for Christ around the world, but it takes the concept of tithing to the corporate level,” Seal continued. “When a church faithfully gives to CP, it relinquishes control of that money and faithfully asks God to do with it what He will. It keeps the focus of the church from solely being about the church or its limited viewpoint.”
Aylwin Woleng, a student from India who attends Southern California Seminary, was much like several others Baptist Press talked with: He had no knowledge of the Cooperative Program until he participated in the Unlimited Partnerships tour.
“It is amazing to me how CP functions,” Woleng said. “The magnitude of its operation and the various ministries and projects CP is sponsoring was very encouraging. I learned [on the tour] that while CP [includes an] emphasis on building future leadership through sponsoring seminaries and [an] education system, CP also strongly supports the existing churches and community for development and in ministry activities. I also learned that CP does not have boundaries. It reaches out to places and people who need help. It is truly a wonderful program.
“All this operation needs a lot of dollars and that’s another thing that amazes me,” Woleng continued. “If I understand well, CP is not the centralized body of the denomination. Instead, it is kind of a representative of the denomination. The church functions at its autonomy, but the local church contributes what they can [to CP]. To me it just shows the faith and support of the local church to CP and its ministries and that is one uniqueness of Southern Baptists.
“The magnitude of ministry CP is able to accomplish cannot be accomplished by local churches,” Woleng said. “A small church is also given a privilege to be a part of big programs through CP. I believe CP also brings about oneness within the Southern Baptist Convention even though each local church functions autonomously as they contribute to the programs of CP. CP focuses on helping fulfill the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ and that is the main reason why CP is successful and should be supported.
“Thank you,” Woleng said, “for giving me the privilege to take a tour at SBC, LifeWay, and to all the leadership who gave their precious time and talked to us, for the warm, family-like hospitality, for the passion each has shown for the Great Commission.”
Tony Rancatore Jr., a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, recounted in an e-mail, “The Cooperative Program was first explained to me in Baptist History class in college. I think that the Cooperative Program is an effective and, more importantly, a biblical method for SBC churches to partner together to financially support ministry done by SBC churches.
“The primary reason I support the Cooperative Program,” Rancatore wrote, “is because it enables members of SBC churches who go to the mission field, foreign or domestic, to financially remain in the field. Also, as a current seminary student I am grateful to the CP and its support to help provide top-notch theological education at a relatively low cost. Without the CP it would be significantly more difficult to attend seminary. Finally, the CP allows the members of SBC churches to participate in supporting other churches in the work of the ministry.”
But for all the good that was said about the Cooperative Program, the seminary students had some concerns.
Emily Harper, a student at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, said that while she appreciated all Southern Baptists had done for her in providing tuition support and more, she would not limit God’s call to work only within an SBC framework.
“My generation seems to be drawn to alternative modes and methods of missional living and church participation,” Harper reflected. “I would hope the CP could be flexible and support this cultural shift, and be more open to supporting those who are untraditional ministers.”
Paul Rochford, an Unlimited Partnerships student at Southern California Seminary, said pastoral support is needed in order for the Cooperative Program “to flourish in the coming generations…. Pastors need to be behind the program and continue to support it from the pulpit. If the pastors are not behind it, then the people certainly will not be.”
Rochford added that this generation “needs to be broken for the lost. The greater one’s heart for those perishing, the greater one’s support for reaching them.”
Jacob Glasz, serving as an Unlimited Partnership youth/discipleship pastor at First Baptist Church in Norco, La., heard about the Cooperative Program since listening to missionary speakers at his childhood church. Affirming the Cooperative Program as an effective means for Southern Baptists to engage in global evangelization, Glasz said, “My first thought about the Cooperative Program was that it is a great way for the average church member to participate in missions. The CP has proven itself to be an effective program through the decades.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message, official newsjournal for the Louisiana Baptist Convention.