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FIRST-PERSON: The Cooperative Part

ONTARIO, Calif (BP) – When Southern Baptists use the words “Cooperative Program,” they often focus on the financial aspects of what that phrase means. That’s appropriate and important. Financial resources are both a means and outcome of expressing cooperation. Money is not, however, what makes the Cooperative Program so amazing. It’s the cooperative part of the process that is so astounding.

The Cooperative Program is purely voluntary. It emerges from the Christian conviction we can do more together than on our own. For Southern Baptists, it also means we can do together what we cannot do on our own. Gateway Seminary is a good example of this conviction in action.

Gateway was founded as Golden Gate Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1944 by two pastors in the San Francisco Bay Area. They were long on dream and short on money. By 1950, it was clear there were not enough Baptists in California (or even the Western United States) to provide adequate financial support for a legitimate seminary. After prolonged discussions, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted Golden Gate in 1950. The financial stream of the Cooperative Program started flowing in the years that followed.

Golden Gate Seminary became a down payment on the account of Southern Baptists becoming a truly national denomination. Southern Baptists had moved beyond the comity agreements which divided the United States by region and were planting churches everywhere. Our forefathers dreamed of a national denomination, with a regional base, but a much broader ministry reach. That kind of denomination required trained leaders, coming from and equipped within every part of our country. Adopting Golden Gate Seminary was a denominational statement of intent to stretch our influence, literally from coast to coast.

Amazingly, Golden Gate grew and prospered – even though it was a long way from the Baptist heartland. There are two primary reasons for this. Of course, the first is the sustaining grace of God. No amount of human effort can replicate or replace that foundational reason for any positive spiritual results. The second reason Gateway has thrived is the Cooperative Program. It has provided the foundation, far exceeding what could have been achieved by local resources (financial or otherwise), to grow a world-class seminary.

While the financial support has been appreciated, other aspects of the Cooperative Program have also been essential. First, knowing we have brothers and sisters who believe in us and stand with us provides confidence to endure the difficult challenges of living and working in a decidedly secular environment. Second, counting on thousands of Southern Baptists who pray regularly for denominational entities gives us spiritual power to overcome obstacles to our work. Third, being trusted with students who come from Southern Baptist churches across the nation has validated the quality of our programs. Finally, being part of a big family has insulated us from the ups and downs of local or regional uncertainties (financial, doctrinal, relational, etc.).

If you come to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Anaheim in June 2022, you will see some of the results of your cooperative investment over these past 70-plus years. Gateway Seminary will be well represented, by a large booth and visible presence, but more importantly by thousands of graduates providing leadership to churches, ministries, and organizations across the West. Beyond that, you will meet messengers from churches across the West, all strengthened by the national vision Southern Baptists have for reaching our entire nation with the Gospel.

Gateway and churches in the West have also benefited from the Cooperative Program, and the entities it supports, by contributing people and money to the effort. We now have Southern Baptists from the West working at other seminaries, serving with the International and North American Mission Boards, and leading churches in the South. This cross-pollination has shifted our perspective and made us a more national denomination through the influence of people from outside the South.

The Cooperative Program is so much more than a financial mechanism to support denominational entities. Cooperation provides spiritual, missional, relational, and organizational strength that is simply not possible when any one church or individual tries to do their work alone. For those of us in places with fewer Southern Baptists, these results are evident daily. We thank God for the Cooperative part of the Cooperative Program – both for what we receive from it and contribute through it.