Why Cooperate?
by Michael K. Whitehead

Why Cooperate?
by Michael K. Whitehead
Interim President, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Six billion people on planet earth are dying from a spiritual disease for which Christians know the cure. We must tell the lost about Jesus Christ, who alone can save them from their sin. World evangelism is a God-sized task that requires God-sized resources and a God-sized plan.

What is God's plan to reach the world? In Acts 1:8, Jesus told his disciples: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Acts 1:8 churches will have God's power and God's passion to reach the world, starting in their local communities and extending to their state, their nation and to the remotest parts of the earth. With supernatural power, Acts 1:8 churches have a vision to start local and go global.

Acts 1:8 Churches. Great Commission churches in various denominations, including Southern Baptist churches, are part of God's plan to reach the world. One way that Southern Baptist churches seek to fulfill Acts 1:8 is through the Cooperative Program. The Cooperative Program is a financial channel of cooperation between the state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention which makes it possible for all persons making undesignated gifts though their church to support world missions, theological education, disaster relief and other ministry and benevolent work across the street and around the world.

Considering our heritage. In 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention was formed as a partnership of local churches, state conventions and the national convention for the purpose of "eliciting, combining, and directing the energies of the whole denomination in one sacred effort for the propagation of the Gospel." In spite of the new organization, mission societies continued to do separate fund-raising, church to church, asking for "designated gifts" for their cause. There were perpetual appeals for special offerings and no coordination of ministry work. The frequent results of this "societal method" of fund-raising were inefficiency, unpaid bills and emergency appeals.

In 1925, the Convention discovered a new strategy which was called the Cooperative Program. Seventy-five years later, the SBC Cooperative Program has been used by God to channel more resources than perhaps any other strategy in the history of the Church, to help fulfill the Great Commission.

How does the CP work? You make an undesignated gift to your SBC local church budget. (An undesignated gift is one that you do not ear-mark for specific projects, such as building fund, youth camp, etc.) This local church budget helps to reach your community, your "Jerusalem." Your church also supports a local association of Baptist churches in order to cooperate in ministry in your community.

Next, your church votes to give a percentage of the undesignated gifts to the Cooperative Program through the state convention. The church then elects messengers to attend the state convention to vote on the state budget, and the percentage that will be sent on to the national denomination. The state conventions collect the CP funds, retain their share, and forward the remainder every week to the SBC CP for national and international ministries. Finally, the church sends messengers to the national SBC convention to vote on a budget to allocate funds among the SBC agencies. 

The heart of the plan is undesignated giving to a unified budget. Each week, gifts flow from local churches, to state conventions, to the SBC Executive Committee, and then to each agency. Every dollar to the SBC CP benefits all the groups in the CP budget.

Regular, systematic channeling of gifts in this manner has produced unprecedented results.

Together. Southern Baptists continue to accomplish far more together than we ever could do separately. Together, we enable the International Missions Board and the North American Mission Board to plant nearly 10,000 missionaries in the US, Canada and in over 127 countries. The fruit: About 700,000 new baptized believers, and nearly 6400 new churches last year around the world.

Together, we support six SBC seminaries with world-class faculties who teach the Bible and train new ministers and other Christian leaders for the next generation of ministry. The fruit: About 13,000 students enrolled each year, being grounded in the truth of God's inerrant Word, and being equipped to lead and serve in over 40,000 local churches in the US and around the world.

Together, we support ethics and religious liberty advocacy before Congress, the courts, and other public policy-making bodies. We raise millions for world hunger and disaster relief, without a dime going to administrative overhead. And we support the Executive Committee of the SBC, which allows accountability and coordination over all the cooperative ministry of the denomination.

To whom much is given. Consider the resources that God has entrusted to the 41,000+ SBC churches. In 1999, SBC churches reported total receipts of $7.7 billion, and undesignated receipts of $5.6 billion. On average, churches sent about 8% of their undesignated receipts to state conventions, totaling $462 million. State conventions retained about 63% for ministries within their states and channeled about $167.9 million to the SBC Cooperative Program.

A $100 gift. Following this pattern, imagine that a person gives an undesignated gift of $100 to his local Baptist church. Here is how the money is divided:

      Total gift $100.00

      Local church keeps 92.00

      To State Convention 8.00

      State keeps 5.36

      To SBC 2.64

From the money that reaches the national CP, one half goes to IMB, 23% goes to NAMB. About 21.4% is divided among the six SBC seminaries. Midwestern Seminary receives about 1.7 cents of every dollar received at the national level. Following the above example:

      To IMB 1.32

      To Midwestern Seminary .05

Nickels add up. In this example, MBTS receives a nickel out of every hundred dollars that a person gives to the general budget of his local Baptist Church. But with the combined giving power of all Southern Baptists, those nickels add up to $2.9 million per year to Midwestern.

In the past year, the average cost to MBTS to provide one credit hour of instruction was $625. Seminaries without the Cooperative Program would pass this cost along in higher tuition, as much as $300 or $400 per credit hour at some schools. They may also depend on donors for scholarship assistance and endowment funds.

Midwestern covers only a fraction of this cost by tuition. Midwestern currently charges $70.00 per credit hour to SBC students, $140 to non-SBC students. This means that the Cooperative Program is providing a scholarship of about $403 for every credit hour taken by SBC students, or about $9000 per year to every full-time Southern Baptist student.

By giving to the Cooperative Program, you had a part in training Danette Cundiff, a young woman who graduated from Midwestern in 1999. As she headed to her IMB assignment in Uganda, Danette wrote to us: "As I sit here in Kenya and think about the friends I left behind in Zanzibar, my heart aches for them. Have you thought about how many millions of people live around the world with no knowledge of Christ? No witness among them? Where is your heart? When was the last time that you asked God to open your eyes to the nations or maybe just to the lost person living next door? It is a painful prayer to have answered will you pray it?"

By giving to the Cooperative Program, you helped to educate Dr. Jon Sapp, Midwestern's alumnus of the year and you now support his family as he directs IMB work for the entire region of East Africa, winning the lost and training the saved. You are helping Bobby Albers get his Masters of Divinity degree at MBTS while he serves as youth minister in Greenwood, Missouri, and you are supporting his parents as they leave a position with the Missouri Baptist Convention and move to a foreign field this fall.

As you go, or as you give, you are helping to fulfill Acts 1:8. There is no place you could give your money to do more good for the Great Commission than through the SBC Cooperative Program.

Reprinted by permission from www.MBTS.edu/news/heartland


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