NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--In the opening decades of the 20th century, leaders of Southern Baptist Convention ministries and leaders of state Baptist ministries made frequent financial appeals to Baptist churches for a wide range of ministry needs. The churches being asked to fund the ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention were the same churches being asked to support the ministries of individual state Baptist conventions.
Inundated with so many requests from so many legitimate ministries, pastors and churches alike grew weary. Recognizing the drain these requests made on the churches, our Baptist forbears hammered out a plan that both recognized and sought to address the problem of so many special offerings.
The plan was remarkably simple: 1) individuals give their tithes and offerings to their local churches; 2) the churches would forward a percentage of their contributions to their state Baptist convention for ministry in the state; and 3) the state convention would then forward a percentage of its funds to provide support for SBC ministries.
Through a unified, cooperative program of giving, both sets of ministries could be funded -- state ministry needs and ministry endeavors of the Southern Baptist Convention. In 1925, this cooperative venture between churches, state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention was given the name Cooperative Program.
By definition, the "Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists' unified plan of giving through which cooperating Southern Baptist churches give a percentage of their undesignated receipts in support of their respective state convention and the Southern Baptist Convention missions and ministries."
As faithful stewards give of their tithes and offerings through their local churches, they partner with other Southern Baptist Christians to accomplish Kingdom-sized ministries:
-- Two of the world's largest missionary-sending entities -- the SBC's International Mission Board and North American Mission Board -- are equipped and resourced to deploy more than 10,000 missionaries across the nation and around the world.
-- Tens of thousands of college students are reached with and for the Gospel through Baptist Collegiate Ministry, the largest campus ministry organization in America.
-- Hundreds of new churches are planted annually in major cities and among multiple ethnic, racial and language groups in the United States through a collaboration of local church, associational, state convention and SBC efforts.
-- More than 16,000 future church leaders are trained in the largest theological seminary consortium in the United States.
-- Thousands of children are fed and housed through children's homes ministries in multiple states.
-- More than 1,600 mobile disaster relief teams, scattered across the states, constituting the third-largest relief organization in the United States, are trained and on ready-alert for deployment whenever a natural disaster strikes the United States.
The synergy of cooperative ministry is incalculable. It finds illustration in numerous biblical examples. One of my favorites is the Old Testament story of Nehemiah. The collective strength of thousands of individuals working together toward a common purpose, each with a specific set of responsibilities, enabled the people to build the wall around Jerusalem in record time. Together, each accomplished more than any of them could have accomplished alone.
That same kind of synergy empowers the cooperative nature of the Cooperative Program. As Nehemiah's story shows, we each can accomplish so much more when we work together -- cooperating for the purpose of penetrating lostness, making disciples and evangelizing the nations with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Roger S. "Sing" Oldham is vice president for communications and convention relations with the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee.
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