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New level of cooperative ministry emerging among SBC agencies

EDITORS’ NOTE: At the dawn of the 21st century — a time when some are claiming that denominations have lost their way — the Southern Baptist Convention stands as a unique exception. The following four articles recount an array of initiatives the SBC has launched in recent months and years to assist local churches and individual Southern Baptists in reaching their communities and the world’s masses with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–As Southern Baptists prepare to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Cooperative Program, an added facet of cooperation is emerging as a cause for celebration.
Southern Baptist Convention agencies have heightened their sharing of resources and services in seeking to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission for evangelizing and discipling the world’s masses, at a time when Southern Baptists’ giving through the Cooperative Program has set yearly records in support of the convention’s worldwide endeavors.
The inter-agency cooperation stems from a recognition that some of an agency’s assignments from the SBC dovetail with another agency’s assignment to help develop that tool for ministry. A number of the North American Mission Board’s evangelistic concerns, for example, may best be administered through Sunday school ministries, to which the SBC has assigned LifeWay Christian Resources (formerly the Sunday School Board) responsibility in assisting churches.
The new FAITH initiative, thus, ties ongoing personal evangelism to a church’s Sunday school organization. Designed by LifeWay and NAMB to turn around a “flat-line” baptism rate in the Southern Baptist Convention, it is modeled after a ministry begun more than a decade ago at First Baptist Church, Daytona Beach, Fla. Since that time, Sunday school enrollment at the church has increased from 2,555 to 4,000 and more than 200 baptisms have been recorded annually.
Officials at LifeWay and NAMB are hoping FAITH will produce similar increases, beginning with 28 “originator” churches across the country where leaders have been trained in using the FAITH strategy and in turn are hosting clinics to train leaders from other churches.
Local church participants agree to attend 16 FAITH training sessions and practice what they learn in home visits. The initiative also includes weekly meetings for Sunday school teachers and group leaders, intentional discipleship and plans for assimilating new Christians into the life of the church.
A few years ago, LifeWay leaders met with International Mission Board leaders and later NAMB leaders to forge relationships to incorporate more missions-related resources into Sunday school literature.
LifeWay President James T. Draper Jr. said such joint consultations signal a “new day” in SBC agency relationships. “I am very excited about the commitments our agencies have made to cooperate and complement each other, rather than to compete. We’re in this thing together.”
Draper credited the SBC’s “Covenant for a New Century” 1997 restructuring with improved relationships. The covenant promised increased effectiveness and efficiency, Draper noted. “That’s exactly what Southern Baptists will see from this type of joint strategic planning. It’s wonderful.”
Another step in this cooperative thrust involved IMB and NAMB in a ground-breaking meeting last December.
“As far as we can determine, this is the first time the entire management staff of the two national mission agencies have ever met together to discuss mission vision, philosophy and direction,” NAMB President Robert E. “Bob” Reccord said of the meeting. “We are treading new ground to forge a closer relationship in order that we might lead Southern Baptists to reach North America and the world for Jesus Christ.”
IMB President Jerry Rankin said the two agencies can accomplish more together than apart. Believing that a synergy will develop as the boards cooperate, he said, “The things driving both our agencies are the same. We can work even more closely together without infringing on each other’s unique responsibilities.”
In that meeting, the two mission agency presidents signed an agreement to expand the fast-growing World Changers student volunteer program to include overseas opportunities in rehabilitating substandard housing and, in the process, share their Christian witness.
NAMB will continue to provide promotion, registration, training and consultation services for an increased number of international World Changers projects, while the IMB will have responsibility for conducting the volunteers’ overseas trips.
In the coming year, the North American Mission Board will partner with the SBC’s seminaries and with local churches to reach the growing number of unchurched people in North America. Known as the Nehemiah Project, NAMB is establishing church-planting centers on each SBC seminary campus, to attain a new level of excellence in the recruitment, training and mentoring of new church planters.
“The fruit of this historic new partnership, coupled with the strength of the existing partnerships between NAMB and its state convention partners, will result in hundreds of new church planters each year who have been specifically trained in seminary and have served as apprentices with pastoral mentors,” Reccord said.
Seminarians will be sent out as Nehemiah church planters into strategic church-planting opportunities to serve in a variety of ways, from simply gaining exposure to new church settings to being a lead church planter working with a staff of other interns.
All six Southern Baptist seminaries have developed degree programs in cooperation with the IMB to equip students for mission service overseas. Following two years at a stateside seminary campus, a students devotes two years of study of field-based service overseas, ready to then be considered for appointment.
The new venture makes good on a pledge Rankin made last fall to see the IMB “involved in the enlistment process earlier to assure that the education, experience and preparation of candidates are focused to expedite appointment.”
Eight Southern Baptist-related entities have begun planning for a jointly sponsored call to stewardship revivals when the new century begins. LifeWay Christian Resources, IMB, NAMB and Woman’s Missionary Union are joining with several state Baptist conventions to encourage Southern Baptists to focus on total lifestyle stewardship.
“Christians are actually God’s asset managers, and that assignment carries with it both blessing and accountability,” stated Gary Aylor of LifeWay’s church stewardship services.
Results of revivals are expected to include persons accepting Christ, others accepting the call to vocational ministry and still others committing to a lifestyle of financial freedom.
In connection with the 75th anniversary of the Cooperative Program’s founding in 1925, SBC President Paige Patterson, several state Baptist convention executive directors and various denominational leaders have been working on a 2000-2001 emphasis on educating church members anew of the Cooperative Program and achieving $750 million in giving for the 200-2001 church year. The $750 million goal encompasses not only state and national CP gifts by church members, but gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for international missions, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American missions and all state missions offerings.
A 1979 statement adopted by messengers to the SBC annual meeting defined the Cooperative Program as “a financial channel of cooperation between the state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention which makes it possible for all persons making undesignated gifts through their church to support the missionary, education, and benevolent work in their state convention, and also the work of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Executive Committee President Morris Chapman said in a report last fall, “We are praying for this celebration and promotion to inspire confidence in cooperation among Southern Baptist churches, state conventions and SBC entities while receiving gifts that will help build the mightiest missionary arm ever known to mankind.”
While Southern Baptists are ministering during a post-denominational era, Patterson said the change has more to do with different names under which groups of people affiliate, such as evangelical, charismatic, Spirit-filled or reformed. “The organizational structure of the new entities is much looser and often they have no organizational structure,” he said.
That provides an opportunity for Southern Baptists to maintain their distinctiveness, Patterson said, noting, “What God blessed in Southern Baptists was our devotion to the matter of getting the people to God and creating believers’ churches that focused on the building of the obedient Christian life through the knowledge of the Word of God.” Accentuating this distinctive and an emphasis on “absolute religious liberty” will serve the denomination well, he said.
Among other cooperative ventures intended to build up obedient Christians are:
— A World Hunger Consultation at Ridgecrest (N.C.) Conference Center last October was jointly sponsored by the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board and Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
The conference focused on raising awareness of hunger concerns among Southern Baptists to increase prayer, giving and hands-on ministry, and in the process, lead people to faith in Jesus Christ.
Through cooperative promotion of the World Hunger Fund, contributions from Southern Baptists increased by 15 percent in 1997 and 35 percent last year.
— A consortium of 30 representatives from Southern Baptist youth agencies, churches and state conventions gathered last year to discuss the challenge of mobilizing youth for the cause of world missions. Participants advised the IMB to improve its contact with teenagers through a separate youth department offering better materials and clearly defined ministry choices.
— LeaderCare, a ministry of LifeWay offering a network of support to ministers and their families facing termination by their churches or other crises, involves a partnership between LeaderCare and state church-minister relations directors in sharing resources for crisis prevention, intervention and restoration.
LeaderCare also teamed with the Annuity Board to survey selected ministers and their spouses regarding personal health concerns and current level of wellness. The survey found that workload and finances were the ministers’ most common sources of stress, while spouses often cited finances and finding time to spend with the minister spouse.
The survey revealed a hopeful trend of younger ministers showing greater interest in stress management, particularly help with healthful eating-on the-run.

Art Toalston, Martin King, Louis Moore, Chip Alford, Lynne Jones & Charles Willis contributed to this article.

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter