Editor’s note: Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.
I met my wife when she was 18, and ever since she turned 19, I have known that she prefers the day before her birthday to the birthday itself. I guess that’s not completely unique. Some people prefer Christmas Eve to Christmas, or New Year’s Eve to New Year’s Day. Still, those are two-day holidays when each day has its own traditions, its own fun, and often its own menu. Not many of us expect two-day birthday parties.
But it’s not the party or the cake or even the presents to which my wife attributes her day-before preference. For her it’s about the anticipation, the excited expectancy, and the knowledge, or at least hope, that preparations are already underway. Wrapped presents are already in sight. Family or friends have been invited. Favorite foods have been requested, or reservations made. Sometimes even the cake or birthday treats have already been prepared or delivered.
And, my wife would point out, the day before your birthday lasts longer. At some point during your birthday, she would say, the sad realization sets in that it’s almost over. But the day before your birthday never leaves you until the joy of your birthday steps in!
At the start of this new year, I’d like to invite all of us as Southern Baptists to think of 2024 as the year before a big birthday. I’d like us to think in terms of anticipation, excited expectancy, and yes, year-long preparation for 2025, when together we will celebrate the 100th birthday of the Cooperative Program.
I know that may sound a little nerdy to some, or at least denominational. It may even sound self-serving, since the Illinois Baptist State Association staff and I are paid through churches’ gifts through the Cooperative Program. But if you are a follower of Jesus who cares at all about his Great Commission, you too have countless reasons to celebrate the Cooperative Program and its worldwide, century-long impact.
Throughout 2024, if it’s not been done already, I anticipate Baptist historians will attempt calculations of how many missionaries have been sent, how many nations and unreached people groups have been engaged, how many baptisms have been reported, how many churches have been planted, how many pastors and church leaders have been trained, how many volunteers have been mobilized, and many more spiritual results that can be tabulated over the past 100 years.
I’m now old enough to be able to personally count dozens if not hundreds of examples in each of those categories. You may be too. But I’m not nearly old enough to remember the kind of missional boldness and sacrificial commitments it took to start this historic, cooperative missions venture in 1925. It was my grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generations that envisioned and then established the Spirit-empowered ecosystem that now takes the Gospel around the world every day, and even while we sleep at night.
So yes, it’s appropriate for all of us and for our churches to embrace 2024 with excitement as a year to think and pray and plan how to celebrate what God has done through almost 100 years of cooperative missions. Even more important, we should ask what our generation and the generation following us might dream and boldly do in 2025 to extend the missional impact of cooperative missions into the next century.
What if this is the year before a new vision emerges that takes the Cooperative Program’s impact to a new level? What if this is the year before a new generation catches a fresh new vision for accelerating the delivery of the Gospel to the world? And what if this is the year before Jesus returns?