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‘God blesses the church that tries to bless the world,’ M.E. Dodd honoree says

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–It was an uncertainty that faces anyone with a possible call to missions. What will happen to those left back home?

As a young minister with a passion for missions who was considering the Journeyman program with the International Mission Board, Stephen Swofford faced the difficult dilemma. His father had just suffered a heart attack, and Swofford wrestled with the issues of life and death, sacrifice and family, calling and duty.

Eventually, God led Swofford in a different direction. But the current pastor of First Baptist Church in Rockwall, Texas, never lost his zeal for missions, and he has committed his ministry to preparing and providing for those on the frontlines of international missions.

Southern Baptists honored Swofford for his commitment and for exemplifying a cooperative missions spirit when he was presented the M.E. Dodd Cooperative Program Award during the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting June 21.

“I really, really felt the strong leadership of the Lord that I had to be one of the guys on the home base who helped support [missions],” Swofford said. “And ever since that time, that’s what I’ve done. I just believe very strongly in missions, both at home and abroad.”

The Dodd Award, inaugurated during the 75th anniversary celebration of the Cooperative Program in 2000, honors a person, congregation or organization that has demonstrated continuous, long-term excellence in supporting missions and ministry efforts of state and regional conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention.

The award is named for M.E. Dodd, who served as pastor of First Baptist Church in Shreveport, La., and as chairman of the Future Program Commission that recommended to the Southern Baptist Convention in 1925 the creation of the Cooperative Program.

Though Swofford has demonstrated his dedication to the Cooperative Program and the missions efforts of the Southern Baptist Convention throughout his ministry, it has been especially evident in his ministry at his current church, which now draws more than 1,200 people each week for one of three worship services.

In the more than 16 years since being called to FBC Rockwall, Swofford has led his church to give 18 percent of its undesignated offerings through the Cooperative Program, amounting to some $462,000 in 2004.

“The commitment of Steve Swofford and the First Baptist Church of Rockwall to the Cooperative Program is unwavering,” said Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC’s Executive Committee, in presenting Swofford with the award.

In addition to their Cooperative Program gifts, the church also gives 3 percent to associational missions and is consistently one of the top contributors in the SBC to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. In fact, in Swofford’s 16 years at his church, FBC Rockwall’s world missions offering has grown from $8,000 to just under $500,000, Swofford said.

“I’ve tried to share with the people and show the people where the money goes, and how it can be used, and what God can do when we join together to do more,” Swofford said.

Remarkably, despite his church’s sacrificial giving, it has never failed to meet its budget — even through several building programs. The reason is simple, Swofford said.

“I’ve always believed that God blesses the church that tries to bless the world,” Swofford said. “And I know of no better way to try to bless the world than through the Cooperative Program.”

While the Cooperative Program has proved its value over and over again as a means of taking the Gospel to the world, Swofford is concerned that more and more churches are choosing to divert funds from the Cooperative Program in favor of church-sponsored missions. Swofford believes it should not be an either-or decision.

“Now I know that this is a day of hands-on missions, when many of our people want to go and see and feel and touch, and I understand that,” Swofford said. “Nothing will turn the heart to missions faster than a hands-on experience. But we dare not rob Peter to pay Paul. We must not back off from one to enjoy the other….

“It’s the Cooperative Program that enables us to equip and to educate and to send and to do almost everything that we jointly do as Southern Baptists. May God help us to stand behind, stay with and increase our part in the Cooperative Program, knowing that it will bless the world, and then God will bless us, because God will bless the church that tries to bless the world.”

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  • Bryan Cribb