Face it — most of us can quote Acts 1:8 forwards and backwards. Throughout the history of Christianity, this passage has served not only as the challenge of evangelism and missions, but it has identified the scope of our evangelism and mission endeavors as well — and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (HCSB). Over the comparatively brief history of the Southern Baptist Convention, we, too, have repeatedly appealed to this foundational command from our Lord and set our denominational course according to this scriptural compass.
This command is foundational to the very existence of the Southern Baptist Convention. It reflects our heritage, our mission, and our passion.
We've all heard countless speakers at annual missions and evangelism conferences who have passionately reminded us that the Lord's mandate just prior to His ascension was not a matter of personal preference — that every follower of Jesus Christ is commanded and expected to engage in fulfilling this command. And it rightly follows that every true local church shares the burden of fulfilling this assignment.
This is no great revelation to most of us. But consider this — how many of us have fully embraced this command — how many of us are actually obeying the Lord's command to be witnesses in all four realms?
Certainly we are engaged in reaching our local communities, but what of the Lord's command to go beyond the borders of our respective communities?
Recently, our two Southern Baptist mission agencies, in conjunction with the Empowering Kingdom Growth initiative, set forth the Acts 1:8 Challenge. In the challenge, they offer the following application from this passage:
• "Jerusalem" = a church's local community,
• "Judea" = a church's state,
• "Samaria" = a church's continent,
• and "to the ends of the earth" = reaching around the world.
In addition, our mission agencies have rightly pointed out the Lord's expectation is not partial — that every church is expected to be engaged in reaching not just their own communities, but all four spheres.
Furthermore, our mission agency leaders have again rightly pointed out that we don't have the luxury of fulfilling these commands sequentially — that our churches are not to wait until they've reached their communities before reaching their states, then their nation, and then the world. Instead, we are commanded by the Lord to be engaged in reaching all four levels simultaneously.
Every church has the command to be engaged in global evangelism to this extent — to do any less would, in fact, be to disobey our precious Lord.
The logistical problem is that most churches are not equipped to facilitate or fund full-time efforts on all four levels. We just don't have the personnel and finances. We can send out short-term missions teams to each of these (and we should), but that doesn't fully satisfy the Lord's command.
The questions logically follow, then: How can a local church possibly obey this command? How can we advance and extend the gospel to those spheres beyond our own community? Is there any system in place that would effectively and efficiently accommodate such a task?
For Southern Baptists, the obvious answer to these questions is found in the Cooperative Program.
The Cooperative Program finances the spread of the gospel on state, national, and international levels. In fact, there is no other system in place anywhere in the world that fully funds as many missionaries as the Cooperative Program. Presently, the Cooperative Program is both the most effective and efficient funding system available for advancing the gospel beyond our own city limits. When a church contributes to the Cooperative Program through its state convention, it helps fund and send out workers across its state, across the nation, and around the world.
You see, it all comes down to the gospel. We are duty bound before God to embrace the system that most effectively and efficiently enables us to obey His command to get the good news of Jesus Christ out to as many people around the world as possible.
The Cooperative Program is that system.
When your church contributes to the Cooperative Program through your state convention, the state convention retains a predetermined percentage to help advance Kingdom causes and spread the gospel across your state. Then it sends the remaining portion to the SBC Executive Committee in Nashville to be distributed to SBC entities according to the budget formula approved by SBC messengers.
Remember this — out of every Cooperative Program dollar forwarded by your state to Nashville:
• Almost $.73 goes directly to world missions (50 percent to the International Mission Board, and 22.79 percent to the North American Mission Board),
• And almost $.22 goes to help provide theological education for pastors who will lead their churches in global evangelism.
As a result of supporting the Cooperative Program, the gospel is proclaimed and advanced even further, and more precious souls are delivered from darkness into light, from death to life — and isn't that what it all comes down to?!
What other system exists that would better enable your church to advance the gospel on all four levels?
There is no comparable system — therefore, it logically follows that contributing to the Cooperative Program should be a core component of a church's evangelism and missions strategy.
Some might counter that the Cooperative Program is too bogged down with all sorts of denominational bureaucracy.
I would respond that there is no system of support without someone to administer it! I would also respond that the Cooperative Program is very efficient, and that it is still the best means available for fulfilling Acts 1:8. Then I would reply that rather than complaining about bureaucracy, God expects us to get involved in the system, on both the state and national levels, to improve efficiency. In doing so we are applying the biblical principle of "stewardship."
Someone else might ask, "Well, how much should we give?"
I would answer, "That is up to each individual church, and it just depends on how passionate and committed you and your church are to obeying the Lord's command in Acts 1:8."