Revised 11:17 a.m. Jan. 9, 2007.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–Gratitude for the Cooperative Program is the focus of the fall issue of Heartland, a publication of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “There is no place you could give your money to do more good for the Great Commission than through the SBC Cooperative Program,” stated interim President Michael Whitehead in his column.
“Six billion people on planet Earth are dying from a spiritual disease for which Christians know the cure,” Whitehead wrote. “We must tell the lost about Jesus Christ, who alone can save them from their sin. World evangelism is a God-sized task that requires God-sized resources and a God-sized plan.”
Referring to Acts 1:8 as God’s plan for reaching the world, Whitehead identifies the Cooperative Program as a way Southern Baptist churches seek to fulfill the commission of God. He identifies undesignated giving to a unified budget as the heart of the plan by which over 41,000 Southern Baptist churches provide $167.9 million in offerings to SBC causes such as Midwestern Seminary.
Since Midwestern Seminary covers only a faction of costs through tuition, a reduction in Cooperative Program gifts would increase the cost to students seeking an education for future ministry. Students who are members of Southern Baptist churches receive a discounted rate at Midwestern, which is roughly half of the tuition charged non-Southern Baptists.
The lead article in Heartland refers to three Midwestern students now serving in mission settings, all having ties to the same Kansas City, Mo., church. “We have the burden to assist our Southern Baptist missionaries who are on the field, meeting the physical and spiritual needs of the people to whom they minister,” stated pastor Scott Flippin of Trinity North Baptist Church. That’s why Flippin promotes the Cooperative Program as the best vehicle for his church to be involved in all types of mission efforts around the world whether or not the missionaries have ties to his church.
“Without the cooperation of Southern Baptist churches it would be impossible for Southern Baptist missionaries to devote one hundred percent of their time to the proclamation of the Gospel, the discipling of believers, and the planting of New Testament churches,” Flippin stated.
Upon graduation from Midwestern, Joseph and Mary Matthews* were appointed by the International Mission Board to serve in Argentina. They had attended Trinity North, but were called to the ministry while at West Bellevue Baptist Church in Nebraska. Pastor Steve Holdaway is zealous in his support of the Cooperative Program as a means of supporting missionaries like the Matthewses.
“As a former church planter supported by the Cooperative Program, I am passionate about the value of doing missions cooperatively. As a church, we could provide the total financial support that Joseph and Mary required in Argentina, but what about the other 10,000 SBC missionaries at home and abroad?” he asked.
Gary Ledbetter, Midwestern’s student development vice president, wrote in Heartland of the need for continued cooperation of autonomous Southern Baptist bodies as a testimony to missionary unity. “Southern Baptists are unified because we agree on the content of the gospel,” Ledbetter wrote. “That unity has purpose because it allows us to address the work our Lord placed before us in the Great Commission. God uses the unity of the Body of Christ to accomplish what individual members cannot do.”
Ledbetter challenges the argument of those who “think that making the vision more vague will call the faithful back” as individuals, churches or state conventions consider whether to continue funding the Cooperative Program. “This pathetic ‘anything goes’ attitude can bear no weight and will never result in long-term growth,” he wrote.
Noting that Southern Baptists were formed around a doctrinal base and for a missionary purpose, Ledbetter wrote, “Our doctrinal foundation is sound and prominent. Our missionary purpose is demonstrated by the way we spend our money and our best people.” He draws upon the lesson Moses taught Israel about unity during the early days of their conquest of the promised land, urging Dan, Reuben and Manaseh to march alongside the other tribes until the entire land was occupied.
“Southern Baptists face a similar challenge to our unity. It is very natural for us to care more about our church or state or nation than about others, but the Great Commission still compels us to work beyond our own horizons,” Ledbetter wrote. “Our Cooperative Program is the greatest tool ever used to address our Lord’s worldwide mission.”
Ledbetter warned that localism or even selfishness at all levels works at cross purposes to the vision of occupying the land. Even churches and state conventions that build effective ministries are susceptible to changing their focus from occupying the land to enjoying relative prosperity and ease. “The people think, ‘If we don’t focus on this place, no one will,'” he wrote, “and missions in unoccupied places starts to be despised in favor of local projects.”
Concluding that “the land before us is not yet occupied for God’s kingdom,” Ledbetter urges Southern Baptists to care beyond their borders. “There must be an end to fortifying our own homes (or lining our nests) while the kingdom’s diminished, divided numbers face giants without us.”
Heartland articles are also available online at www.mbts.edu.
*Names changed for security concerns.