One by one, they stood before messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention in Atlanta committing themselves and their churches to be Partners in the Harvest. Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist in Dallas, Jim Henry of FBC Orlando, Adrian Rogers of Bellevue in Memphis, and James Merritt of FBC Snellville, Ga., shared with the messengers why they eagerly support the Cooperative Program and the Partners in the Harvest emphasis.
The Cooperative Program Development staff solicited responses from these men as well as Paige Patterson, SBC President, concerning evangelism, missions, and the Cooperative Program. The following are excerpts from their comments.
CP Staff What has been the most effective evangelistic strategy for your church?
Merritt The most effective evangelistic strategy for our church has been simple week-in and week-out training, enlisting, and motivating soul winners to go out into our community and win people to Christ. That coupled with a strong expository Bible preaching ministry, and keeping evangelism before our people, has been very effective.
Henry Several strategies have proven effective for our church. The first strategy is reaching the lost through friends, relatives, and co-workers. This witness of our people – where they are, in the mission field in which God has placed them – works better than any other evangelistic method we have tried. We have also found our television ministry to be tremendously effective in opening doors for evangelism. Special programs – such as our Christmas and Easter pageants, as well as Men's and Women's Ministries luncheons with dynamic, well-known guest speakers – serve as a large gateway to reaching people. Not to be overlooked is the great importance our church places on prayer. God has blessed our devotion to prayer by allowing us to see many people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as a direct result of prayer. At First Baptist Orlando, we have also recently finished an eight-week Sunday morning Bible Study series on Contagious Christianity, which has been very helpful and, ultimately, very productive.
Graham Our best strategy has been to offer a variety of mission and evangelism ministries which are in place to share the love of Christ and to make an eternal difference in the lives of all people. As a Pastor, one of my priorities is to seek to ensure that evangelism becomes a reality for every member. I believe the mindset of every believer should be to do something every day that at least has the potential to last forever. Evangelism is an atmosphere and our people are encouraged to share their faith in normal daily patterns and lifestyles.
Rogers Our church has been a leader in evangelism, but we are doing pitifully little compared to what we should do, ought to do, and by God's grace, we're going to do. I am … challenging my people to move up one step higher to win souls for Christ. I am personally asking God to make me a better soul winner. Not merely from the pulpit, but day to day, that I will not only speak to those who come my way, but I will actively go and seek the lost for Jesus.
CP Staff What kind of mission emphasis strikes the most responsive chord in your seminary/church?
Patterson Without a doubt the international mission assignment has captured the central focus of our seminary. Approximately one-third of our 2,000 students are committed to making their way to an international mission assignment.
Merritt We have a two-fold mission emphasis. One is on-the-field missions that we do both at in our nation and abroad. The other is through our nationwide television ministry. We see both personal missions and media as two extremely effective ways to carry out the Great Commission in our generation.
Henry Our people are touched and moved to commitment by the call to "hands-on" involvement. We are seeing more and more people involved in all sorts of mission efforts. I've discovered that when our people see a need and feel they can make a difference, they have a pattern of quick and positive response.
Graham The most positive response for us happens when we challenge and facilitate ways to involve groups and individuals in "hands-on" mission opportunities at home and around the world, where our people have the opportunity to stretch their faith and see firsthand the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives changed. For the past six years, we have partnered with a Southern Baptist missionary in Mexico City. This has allowed our people to work shoulder to shoulder with one of our own. One member, Melanie Martin, has commented that her life in Christ will never be the same. It was the first time in her life she had an opportunity where she was truly challenged to share her faith and to see literally hundreds of people come to Christ.
CP Staff Tell us about your mission endeavors in recent years and your plans for the next couple of years.
Patterson During our closing chapel service for the 1998-99 school year, we commissioned more than 300 of our students who will be involved in summer mission endeavors and more than twenty people who will be gone for two years. The "Two-Plus-Two" partnership program with the International Mission Board and the "Nehemiah Project" with the North American Mission Board are programs funded through the Cooperative Program that enable our students to be involved in church planting both at home and around the world. This program, through one year's time, resulted in more than 20,000 conversions and the planting of twenty-eight new churches.
Graham We have sought to provide ways that our people can become participants in helping fulfill the Great Commission. These ways include evangelism courses and a host of local mission opportunities. In addition, each year we offer short-term national and international mission journeys that provide evangelistic and church planting opportunities for hundreds of our people. We are looking forward to participating in the North American Mission Board's Strategic Focus Cities Program. We are adopting Boston and are already involved in plans to start churches and to assist existing churches in the New England area.
CP Staff What has the Cooperative Program meant to you personally?
Patterson The Cooperative Program has provided an opportunity for me to join hands with a multitude of other Southern Baptists and their churches to reach out and touch people for Christ that I have never seen and will never see this side of Heaven.
Merritt When I think of the Cooperative Program I think about the seminary education I received, which I could never have afforded without the support of Southern Baptists. The Cooperative Program was literally a lifeline to a young married couple who had been married less than a year, were living in strange territory, with only the wife, at the time, able to work. If I had no other reason, I would be eternally grateful for the Cooperative Program.
Henry I have been thrilled to see the impact that the Cooperative Program has had, not only nationally, but internationally as well. Our missionaries and workers have gained the much deserved respect and confidence of nations over the years. That sort of stability, security, and ability to do things 'the right way' carries a lot of clout in the world today. It makes me proud to be a Southern Baptist. When I look at its widespread impact through our various institutions and ministries, I don't flinch when our church writes out a check for our gifts to missions and to the Cooperative Program.
Graham Even as a small boy participating with my local church in world missions through the Cooperative Program, I learned to appreciate that the Great Commission can be fulfilled together with many churches in a much greater capacity than individually. I am very gratified to know that when we give to our local church we are giving to the needs of all of America and beyond, reaching the world for Christ.
CP Staff What is your hope for the Cooperative Program?
Patterson It is my hope that we will see at least a twenty-five percent increase in Cooperative Program gifts through the churches over the next five years.
Merritt It is my desire to see that every dollar given to the Cooperative Program be used in its most effective manner in reaching the most people for Jesus Christ. Never before have godly, conservative, Bible-believing Baptists had more motivation to give to the Cooperative Program than they do today.
Henry My hope for the Cooperative Program is two-fold. One: that it will continue to grow and people will appreciate it more than ever in its history. Two: that some of the younger pastors and leaders of our churches will make a larger faith contribution to its endeavors.
Graham My prayer is that Southern Baptists will engage every opportunity to share the gospel in the upcoming millenium. The Cooperative Program provides us that opportunity. Southern Baptists have the greatest mission program in the history of the Christian faith. It is called the Cooperative Program. It should be supported, loved, prayed for, and developed in the years to come.
CP Staff How can the Partners in the Harvest 75th Anniversary Campaign help churches?
Patterson The most important thing that Partners in the Harvest 75th Anniversary Campaign can do is to educate our Southern Baptist people once again about what the Cooperative Program is and what it accomplishes. I am unalterably convinced that the only reason the Cooperative Program does not double is because most of our people still honestly do not comprehend what it is and what it accomplishes.
Henry I believe it will enable us to focus again on the blessings and the impact this effort has made in sharing the gospel around the world, in developing and growing countless people with harvest eyes and hearts, and in prayerfully producing even more dramatic results in the future.
Graham As pastors and congregations, it is vitally important and significant at this time in history that we be at our very best for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Partners in the Harvest will undergird that effort and give the proper emphasis for the future of our churches. I've never felt more privileged to be a Southern Baptist and in great part my enthusiastic support is due to the Cooperative Program.
CP Staff What would you like to say to fellow pastors about participation in Partners in the Harvest?
Henry My fellow pastors, I encourage each of you to 'get in on it'! Though there is always the obvious temptation to use these monies for more 'pressing' apparent needs in the church, our church has found that in giving generously through missions, we have pleased God and have seen Him provide. Someone has said that the best way to make a contribution to life is leave the woodpile bigger than you found it. I believe that is the heart of the people at our church. My fellow pastors, I believe God will bless all who will join heart and hand with Christ in spreading the Good News.
Rogers We at Bellevue are going to put our money where our mouth is and we're accepting President Patterson's challenge and that of the Executive Committee and we're moving our Cooperative Program gifts up at least 1 percent this year. We are asking God that we together as Southern Baptists will accept this challenge. My fellow brothers in Christ, we have basically won the battle for the inerrancy of Scripture, let's not lose the battle for the authority and power of the Scripture. Let's put it to work for Jesus Christ.
Patterson If we did not have a Cooperative Program, we would have to invent one. It is a pattern that is based in the Word of God where the Apostle Paul became a central agent to collect funds for the poor saints in Jerusalem, as well as for his own ministry and mission. Since the Cooperative Program is biblically based, eminently successful, and the object of admiration in every other denomination, I would say to our fellow pastors, "Let's get behind this as never before; Let's educate our people about it; Let's have one last great missionary effort before Jesus comes."
Partners in the Harvest Debuts to Standing Ovation
Partners in the Harvest, the 75th Anniversary Celebration of the Cooperative Program, made its debut at the One Hundred Forty-Second Session of the Southern Baptist Convention June 15-16 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Over 11,500 messengers watched, listened, and cheered as Christian artists Clay Crosse, Bob Carlisle, and BeBe Winans sang I Will Follow Christ, the theme song for Partners in the Harvest. Before the song ended, the messengers were on their feet giving the Lord and the artists a standing ovation. Dr. James Merritt, pastor of FBC Snellville and past chairman of the Executive Committee, led the crowd in pledging to follow Christ.
Afterward, more than 500 pastors and staff stopped by the Executive Committee booth to sign up for Partners in the Harvest. As of this writing, every state convention and every SBC agency has committed to participate in the celebration.
How to Become a Partner in the Harvest
You are invited and encouraged to join the celebration of 75 years of successful mission endeavor through the Cooperative Program. The celebration is named Partners in the Harvest and its goals are:
• Baptize 1 million people in the year 2000.
• Involve more people in short-term missions than ever before in our history
• $750 million combined missions offerings
Your commitment to Partners in the Harvest means you will lead your church to:
• Conduct the Partners in the Harvest campaign in the spring of 2000
• Plan a special short-term missions project for your church sometime next year
• Consider increasing your Cooperative Program by at least 1 percent for one year during the 2001 budget year
Complete kits will be mailed to your church in the fall. The kits will include all the materials you will need to conduct the campaign and a copy of the music video premiered at the convention.
You may sign up for Partners in the Harvest by:
1. Calling your state convention CP office
2. Logging on the Cooperative Program web page at www.sbc.net
3. Calling the Cooperative Program office of the Executive Committee at 1-800-722-9407