ALPHARETTA, Ga. – I pastored my first church in Fort Worth, Texas, while attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Hilltop Baptist Church was small – I was called as pastor with seven votes, my only unanimous call to this date – and it was located in a rough part of town. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the only reason they brought me as pastor was that my wife Lynette was the only pastor’s wife willing to live in the nearby church parsonage!
In the world’s eyes, Hilltop may have seemed insignificant. But one thing that congregation understood and loved was that they could have an impact for Christ around the nation and around the world. They did that by giving to the Cooperative Program and the special Southern Baptist missions offerings.
This is one of the great features of how the CP works – both large and small churches can be part of sharing the Gospel worldwide through their giving. The members of Hilltop didn’t give in hopes that the money would come back to benefit their church. They gave to be part of reaching people for Christ – people they would never meet until heaven.
Years later, when I became president of the North American Mission Board (NAMB), I saw another side of CP. Through serving and getting to know our missionaries and chaplains, I saw that CP represents so much more than money and resources. As important as those things are, CP represents the sense of family and support and the ongoing presence our missionaries feel from Southern Baptists. It’s a very tangible way that God reassures our missionaries that even though their ministry is filled with challenges and even when they feel discouraged, He is with them, and millions of Southern Baptists are behind their efforts.
In 2020, when the pandemic threw the world and many ministries into financial crisis, our missionaries were able to stay on the field and continue their outreach. They kept sharing Christ and meeting needs through Send Relief. They continued planting new churches in places most in need of a Gospel presence. And chaplains brought the hope of Christ in hospital settings and ministered to families distraught because they could not be near their loved ones, sometimes even as they passed away.
In other words, the faithful giving of Southern Baptists allowed missionary work to continue, just when it was needed most. What a shining moment that was for Southern Baptists and the Cooperative Program!
Some people are quick to point to all that is wrong with Southern Baptists, and we are surely fallible. But our commitment to taking the Gospel to every community, every city and every nation and backing up that commitment with the fuel of funding through the Cooperative Program is an incredible example of what is right with Southern Baptists.
Most of those dear people I pastored at my first church back in Fort Worth have gone on to be with the Lord now, and I sometimes can’t help but think about what awaited them when they stepped into glory. I believe that one thing that must have added to their praise and rejoicing was the opportunity to meet face to face some of the many people they helped bring into God’s Kingdom through their faithful giving. Their giving, even at a small church in a worn-down neighborhood, made all the difference in eternity for so many.
Published April 23, 2021