Local pastors, church planters, national and state leaders and seminary professors who took part in the CP exhibit's three days of varied panel discussions often underscored the importance, viability and the future of the SBC's 89-year-old plan for supporting missions and ministry through state conventions and the SBC.
But describing the Cooperative Program as a way of funding state convention and SBC outreach and witness may miss the point that CP not just about money, panelists said during one of the sessions.
Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, said the Cooperative Program represents "long-held Southern Baptist values."
It's time to "change the conversation about CP" and to focus less on method and more on relationship and results, Page said in a Q&A with Ashley Clayton, EC vice president for CP and stewardship development.
Clayton said Page's vision for "Great Commission Advance," an initiative to steadily increase churches' missions involvement, asks Southern Baptists to "do more" to advance the Great Commission without naming specific percentage or dollar amounts.
In a discussion, "Fault Lines Within the SBC," moderated by Tennessee pastor Jon Akin, Page said many of the things Akin described "young pastors" as valuing -- such as church plants, theological education, disaster relief and religious liberty -- are not limited to that demographic.
Those issues "really transcend beyond a younger demographic," Page said. "I am passionate about the Cooperative Program because I am passionate about those things."
Amid Southern Baptists' diversity -- whether theological, methodological, ethnic or cultural -- Page said, "We need to support the Cooperative Program, but we also believe that God calls us to go.
"We are going to celebrate all missions" through CP and other ways Southern Baptists are engaging a lost world, Page said. "It's not an either/or, but a both/and."
That view was echoed in a "Sending Church" panel moderated by Ken Winter, the International Mission Board's vice president for mobilization, when J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., said traditionally generous support of the Cooperative Program has fueled efforts to put missionaries on the field -- but churches also are exploring and implementing additional ways of resourcing missionaries.
Another panelist, David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., cautioned that social justice issues such as poverty, sex trafficking and hunger, although important, can lead to an either/or mentality when it comes to supporting missions altogether.
With thousands,000 people groups that have no knowledge of Jesus, Platt said, "That is the greatest social injustice."
The fundamental role of the church, Platt said, is to create a culture in which missions by a congregation is "the very purpose for which they have breath." Pastors should work to create a "collision between Word and world," he said, "and when that collision happens, things change."
Church planters, who often see that redemptive collision as recipients of CP support, shared why CP is important to them. In a discussion led by Brian Frye, national collegiate strategist with the North American Mission Board, one church planter said he would be "scared to death" if there were no Cooperative Program.
"I don't know if we would have a general direction to go," the planter said. "I think we would be looking for someone to point us in a healthy direction."
For the Cooperative Program to remain viable, several seminary professors said in a discussion of "Meeting the Challenges of the 21st Century" that ongoing education of CP's importance is essential. As Edgar Aponte, a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., put it, people don't know how "God has used CP to bless them and bless millions."
In a panel, "GCR and the State Conventions," Akin said it was clear Southern Baptists had "returned to the Bible as the inerrant, infallible Word of God," but that the Great Commission Resurgence was a response to a plateau across the denomination, though he was encouraged by changes at the North American Mission Board heightening church planting.
Nate Adams, executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association, said that due to GCR-related changes in CP funding back through state Baptist conventions, 77 percent of Illinois Baptists indicated in response to questions about how CP budgets are allocated that they would not favor increasing giving to national SBC causes as GCR suggests.
Yet Florida pastor Jimmy Scroggins said he is confident Florida is "on track" for a 50/50 allocation of CP receipts between state and national/international SBC causes.
"I am not wringing my hands," Scroggins, pastor First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, noted in view of the challenge he faces as a pastor of making sure offerings are used for missions in some way -- including reaching children, premarital counseling and multicultural ministries – while Florida Baptists continue their ministries in Haiti and other countries that utilize CP funds.
The Cooperative Program already has established a "very healthy pipeline" to organizations that do tremendous good throughout the world, said Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response, citing key partnerships between SBC entities like the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board.
"It's just amazing to see us come together … around a common cause, helping with what we're passionate about—lostness, human needs, (and) hunger," Palmer said.
Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, said CP undergirds a system that helps to educate pastors and missionaries and provides support on the local field.
"When you piecemeal, and direct them towards the one piece, you break the system that as a whole is an incredible Kingdom resource," Chitwood said.
The Cooperative Program conversations during the SBC annual meeting will be available to view online beginning June 25 at sbc.net/cp.
Joni B. Hannigan is a freelance writer and editor based in Houston.
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