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FIRST-PERSON: Cooperation is not ‘self-centered, self-promoting’

BRENTWOOD, Tenn. (BP)–Over the years I have come to develop a high regard and appreciation for Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board. Rankin was a missionary and rose through the ranks of the IMB to become president in 1993. I remember interviewing him during a press conference shortly after his election.

Rankin has done an excellent job during his 17-plus years as president. The IMB is sending out missionaries and doing its part in fulfilling the Great Commission.

Our IMB president also is an accomplished writer. In fact, I am using his latest book, “In the Secret Place: A Pilgrimage Through the Psalms,” as my personal devotion book this year. It is an excellent book, well-written. I highly recommend it.

With that said, I am disappointed in recent comments by Rankin. He and Morris H. Chapman, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, have had a disagreement that has been aired publicly through Baptist Press and then in The Tennessean, Nashville’s daily newspaper on March 13. Personally, I would have preferred their argument with each other had been settled by the two of them in private.

Rankin, through his writing on a personal blog, seems to take exception with what Southern Baptists have done so well over the years — cooperating together to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

The IMB leader basically has accused Chapman of being self-serving, more concerned about cooperation than fulfilling the Great Commission. Chapman, who says his remarks were taken out of context by Rankin, appears to see the total picture. Fulfilling the Great Commission cannot happen by focusing totally on the international field.

Reaching the world for Christ also means reaching lost people in our own church community, our county, our state and our nation.

Rankin later apologized to Chapman in a blog he posted on March 15. The apology does not change what he said about cooperation.

When I read Matthew 28:19-20, I don’t see that you should reach one area at the exclusion of the others.

Since 1925, Southern Baptists have used a vehicle called the Cooperative Program to try to fulfill the Great Commission of Christ.

It appears there are some now who would like for us to go back to the old societal method of raising funds. What happens with this method is some viable, needed ministries are left out. That is one of the reasons Southern Baptists saw the wisdom in adopting the Cooperative Program in the first place.

In criticizing Chapman recently, Rankin wrote the following statement. I take this straight from his writing, not from someone else’s article about it. This is what Rankin wrote: “Cooperation is about us; it is self-centered, self-promoting and maintaining everything every entity is doing without any concern for priorities or results.”

I re-read that statement several times to make sure I understood it. Frankly, I don’t understand it. To me, cooperation is the opposite of being self-centered and “about us.” When you cooperate with others, you give up a part of yourself and your feelings in order to work with others to accomplish whatever task you are doing.

In the sentence which follows his observation on cooperation, Rankin wrote: “The Great Commission is not about us, our programs and sustaining what we have always done; it is about others. It is about a lost world. It is about consolidating our resources and focusing our energies to proclaim the gospel to those who have never heard, to win the lost and see the kingdoms of the world become the kingdom of our Lord.”

That I can agree with.

In fact, the economy of the last two years has caused every denominational entity that I am aware of to do just what Rankin is calling for — consolidating our resources and cutting budgets. That has been done in my own local church and it has been done in our state convention and its entities.

I understand Rankin’s desire for the IMB to receive more money. It is the entity he leads. He wants what is best for the IMB. I do not fault him for that. But the IMB is the best-funded of any Southern Baptist entity. Not only do they get 50 percent of national SBC receipts, they get the largest single offering taken up by Southern Baptists in one year — the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Last year the LMCO totaled more than $141 million.

More resources are needed at every level, the local church, the association, the state convention, the North American Mission Board and the IMB. The real problem is that Southern Baptists only give, on average, 2.5 percent of their income. Even those without Christ give that much to charitable causes.

Chiding Morris Chapman and countless Southern Baptists who have given sacrificially through the Cooperative Program for years is not the answer. I don’t give through my church to the Cooperative Program so I can brag about cooperation. I give through the Cooperative Program because it does what it is designed to do — fund ministries at all levels in order that we share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those who need to hear.

We must be careful not to label one field more important than another. Every soul is important, whether they live in our community, our state, our nation or in a remote country on the other side of the world.

I fear too many people are yelling that the sky is falling. The sky is not falling. We are in a recession. I think God’s people called Southern Baptists have done remarkably well in maintaining the funding we have done at all levels. They should be applauded and not rebuked during this difficult economy.

If we make knee-jerk reactions now, we may regret it in the future.

Cooperation is not self-serving. It’s still the best way for Southern Baptists to work together to fulfill the Great Commission.
Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. This column will appear in the March 17 print edition of the Baptist & Reflector. The B&R may be read online at www.tnbaptist.org/BRNews.

    About the Author

  • Lonnie Wilkey

    Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector (baptistandreflector.org), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.

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