The dialogue at the Cooperative Program exhibit took place from casual chairs on a simple platform in a high-tech production area that projected the discussion on a massive two-sided high-definition screen overhead and streamed it on the Internet.
Nearly 125 different speakers addressed such topics as Southern Baptists' hallmarks of cooperation, international missions, church planting and theological education as well as matters related to ethnic diversity, social justice and sexuality.
C. Ashley Clayton, the SBC Executive Committee's vice president for Cooperative Program and stewardship development, said the June 9-11 Cooperative Program hub evolved in response to the desire to facilitate important conversations amicably without controlling the outcome.
Like Southern Baptists themselves, the speakers were from every area of the country -- as well as Cuba. Many were young leaders interspersed among bivocational and mega-church pastors, church planters, seminary presidents and professors, state convention leaders and missionaries.
The issues they spoke of were rooted in the nature of the exhibits surrounding the stage -- reflecting the Cooperative Program that ties Southern Baptists together in support of national and international missions and ministry.
"It becomes a broad, free-flowing conversation," Clayton said. "Sort of like the family after church" deciding where they want to go to eat.
It's "autonomy at its best," he added.
There were no harsh exchanges but there were plenty of opinions while nearly everyone kept an eye on a huge countdown monitor.
Some big crowds, but mainly groups of interested people, gathered to listen for 15- to 25-minute sessions encompassing panels with a facilitator asking questions, "Ted"-like talks or one-on-one interviews.
A panel led by Brian Frye, national collegiate strategist with the North American Mission Board, specifically addressed Cooperative Program funding.
"How does CP fuel church planting in North America?" Fry asked church planters Victor Schloss, Keith Weiser and Tim Miller. "And how has it impacted you?"
"For me, it's the vision," Weiser, pastor of Resonate Church in Pullman, Wash., said, noting the collective nature of Southern Baptist work impacting potentially millions of people.
Without CP, Weiser said he would have been "isolated and un-resourced," noting the North American Mission Board helps create networks, funding and fellowship.
Schloss, San Diego city coordinator for the Send North America church planting initiative, said he doesn't consider CP a program as much as a philosophy that can leave "a legacy for the next generation."
The Cooperative Program "unites us for the Great Commission," Schloss said, and is unparalleled in its effectiveness.
Planting a church, Schloss said, is like caring for a baby -- and if CP hadn't existed, he would have been "fragile, discouraged, isolated."
Among speakers and panelists addressing cultural issues, Jed Coppenger, pastor of Redemption City Church in Franklin, Tenn., said it's easy for people to get caught up in partisan politics instead of just being clear on Scripture. Preaching expositionally can let God speak to the issues, he said, adding, "Jesus loved the people and He loved them enough to tell them the truth."
The six SBC seminary presidents hosted "Theological Challenges Young People Experience" while Kevil Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, participated in a conversation about collegiate church planting.
Juan Carlos Rojas, president of the Western Cuban Baptist Convention, served on a panel with a couple of Cuban pastors who recounted how a church-planting movement in Cuba blossomed despite severe challenges.
Kerry Bural, principal of The Resonate Group, a Nashville-area creative and strategic services company, took part in a panel on "Social Media in a Ministry Context." Resonate partnered with the SBC Executive Committee in producing the discussions at the Cooperative Program exhibit.
The conversations will be available to view online beginning June 25 at sbc.net/cp.
Tim Brister, a pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Fla., told Baptist Press he was thankful for the "diverse range of topics" that are relevant to many Southern Baptists and give "voices to various issues."
In addition to Frye who facilitated several of the panels, Jon Akin, pastor of Fairview Church in Lebanon, Tenn., and a Baptist21 organizer, and Micah Fries, vice president of LifeWay Research, hosted various other panels.
Joni B. Hannigan is a freelance writer in Houston.
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