INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–It’s not unique to my experience, but I thought I would share my personal story about the Cooperative Program. My prayer is that my story will be one of encouragement and hope for Southern Baptists at a time when the economy continues to be a major issue. I hope you’ll gain a new appreciation for the way we as Southern Baptists cooperate for the sake of the Gospel.
The journey for me began when I first felt called to the ministry as a high school senior. I grew up in Richmond, Ind., and spent my senior year of high school in Garden Grove, Calif. Through an unusual set of circumstances, I ended up in Texas to go to college. I didn’t know anyone in Texas. I had no relatives or friends in the state. God just placed me there. I wasn’t sure how I was going to finance my education, but I trusted God and His call on my life. Mark Tullos, the music and youth minister in our church, told me, “If it’s God’s will, God will make a way.”
And He did. How did God provide? One way was through a work program on campus, picking up garbage. That’s one of the reasons I appreciate any job. My economics teacher at Richmond High School taught us that “All work, no matter how menial, has dignity.” I had a second job as a part-time youth minister at First Baptist Church in Mount Pleasant, Texas.
Another part of my education was provided through what we know as the Southern Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program. Because I was licensed to the ministry by my home church and was attending Dallas Baptist University as a student preparing for ministry, the Baptist state convention provided a tuition reduction for me. As a result, when I finished my bachelor’s degree, I owed very little and was able to pay it off quickly.
How was I going to afford a seminary education to further my preparations for ministry? Again, I received a small scholarship, worked a part-time job on campus in lawn service, worked as a youth minister at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, and my wife worked full-time to help with expenses. An enormous debt would still have amassed, but the Cooperative Program, once again, came to the rescue.
I discovered that Southern Baptists, through the Cooperative Program, not only provided resources for international and North American missions, but also helped subsidize seminary education to help prepare students from our churches for the ministry. So when I enrolled at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, the Cooperative Program provided most of my tuition. As a result, I was able to finish my master’s degree and owed nothing when I graduated.
Some of my friends decided to go to a non-Southern Baptist seminary and paid a much higher price, accumulating great debt. Others were not able to finish. I shudder to think “what might have been” for me had it not been for the generosity of Southern Baptists believing in a cooperative way of supporting missionaries and providing for students preparing for ministry. Cooperation works. Cooperation has worked in the past and will continue to work to provide for the best opportunities in preparing the next generation of leaders to guide our churches in reaching a lost world.
As a church planter, I discovered that the Cooperative Program wasn’t through with me yet! Again resources became available to help us plant a new church in San Antonio — University Baptist. Through the support of the state convention, the North American Mission Board, LifeWay and Woman’s Missionary Union, there were resources to help us in the initial phases of that new church plant. In only 18 months, our new church had grown enough that we were totally self-supporting and constituted as a church, and it’s a vibrant, effective church to this day. As a pastor of a church-planting church, those same resources partnered to help us plant numerous other churches over the years.
In my journey as a minister, I’ve been on the receiving end of the Cooperative Program at all of those angles. It was a humbling experience to receive help as a student, and that help was crucial to my life in ministry. That is why, as a pastor for more than 30 years and now as executive director for Indiana Baptists, I have always been a cheerleader for the Cooperative Program. There were times as a pastor when a church committee member would ask, “When will we get back some of the money we send through the Cooperative Program?” My answer was always, “We don’t give so it comes back to us. We give to cooperate with other Southern Baptist churches to fulfill the Acts 1:8 challenge in reaching North America and the ends of the earth with the Gospel and helping seminary students from our churches prepare to carry the torch in the next generation.”
The Cooperative Program helps us maintain a “kingdom” mindset.
Now that you know a little of my story, let me bring all of this down to today’s situation. In a time when we are more concerned than ever about how far our dollars will go, it’s good to remember that the best investments we make are for eternity. And the best place for our pastors and churches to impact eternity is to place their investments for missionaries, mission causes and seminary education through the Cooperative Program.
Think about it: the smallest church in our state convention is a part of helping annually support more than 10,000 Southern Baptist missionaries at home and overseas. Through the Cooperative Program, that same church is helping send record numbers of new missionaries to the field each year. We are helping to educate thousands of future ministers through our six Southern Baptist seminaries, with the largest enrollment of men and women preparing for ministry in the world! They not only need our continued and increased support, they are worthy of our support, especially at a time when education costs are skyrocketing.
So you do the math. When planning your church budget and its mission investments, give prayerful consideration to how you can make your mission dollars go the farthest. Think about how your Cooperative Program dollars support over 10,000 well qualified, trained, effective missionaries, thousands of ministerial students in our seminaries and thousands of new church plants each year across North America and around the world. What a tremendous investment!
I’ve experienced the Cooperative Program from three different angles, and any way I look at it, it all adds up to carrying out the Acts 1:8 challenge with a plan that is proven, can be trusted and ultimately is the best investment of your mission resources. Thank you, Southern Baptists, for believing in how we cooperate together to reach the lost at home and to the ends of the earth!
Stephen Davis is executive director of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana.