Like a family, we’re in this together

Between our responsibilities at the Southern Baptist Convention, Sharon and I were able to attend the International Mission Board’s commissioning service in the Music City Convention Center. On the platform, behind a silhouette screen, was a couple briefly sharing their spiritual journey that led them to go to a nation without a gospel witness. They had counted the cost and were now willing to gratefully trust the Lord to be on mission through Southern Baptists. They were joined by 62 other commissioned missionaries.

They are leaving behind life as they know it and are going to a faraway place for the sake of the gospel. They could lose their lives in service of the Lord. They will experience incredible loneliness apart from family and people who can call them by their own given name. Yet, they said, “Yes!” to the call.

As I listened to their testimonies, I could not help but remember what I heard just before I entered the room. One of the pontificators in the Convention Center hallway was making financial threats of cutting Cooperative Program giving if he didn’t get his way in the business session. I’ve been around long enough to know that some people have a tendency to form hard opinion lines based on a few facts and very little information. The friction isn’t usually a core theological issue. It usually is about our methods and processes. We’ve all heard those voices or read their blog posts. 

I’ve heard several times the analogy that the Southern Baptist Convention is like a family. And sometimes we act like family. When family gets together, there are probably a few who are just a little difficult, but we choose to love each other anyway. After all,  we are family. If one part of the family hurts, we all hurt.

When the Southern Baptist Convention gathers, we are like a big boisterous family. We come from different places, different traditions, and many cultures, ethnicities, and languages. Frankly, we are starting to look a little like the palm wavers in Revelation 7:9 shouting out, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!”

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Over the course of a half century, the mosaic of Southern Baptists has radically changed from a monolithic faith group to the most biblically based, most ethnically diverse evangelical group in North America. That’s what happens when we cooperatively, passionately focus on the Great Commission to reach every person, in every town, city, state and nation with the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Before the SBC Annual Meeting, while sitting across the table from a dear brother, he told me that some of his colleagues had questioned his staying in the Southern Baptist Convention and supporting the mission through the Cooperative Program. As I listened, I heard him give an encouraging response to his colleagues. “You show me one other comprehensive network that supports 3,800+ full-time missionaries and their babies; show me another network that is the largest private provider of foster care in the state; show me the network with 24,000 seminary students; show me the network instilling a biblical worldview to its undergrad students; show me the network that provides safety, counseling, and education for the women and children rescued from sex trafficking; show me another network that cares for church planters and for veteran pastors and —think about this — there is so much more we do in the name of the Lord, all of the time, 24/7 all over the world. And if there is, I will join that other group. Right now, the only one is the Southern Baptist Convention/Missouri Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Program. So, I am planted here.”

I was blown away by my young friend’s boldness and advocacy for our Great Commission work through the Cooperative Program. I see and hear in him a future leader that will carry this message into his generation. Remember families (and churches) are made of multiple generations.

Roger Alford of Georgia gave me these excerpts from an article he wrote speaking of all the ministries we do together as a spiritual family:

“We’re able to do that through what’s been called the greatest evangelistic initiative of the modern church age – the Cooperative Program.

“On my own, I don’t have the financial means to fully support even a single missionary. And I certainly would not be personally able to go into countries around the world and present the gospel in a language people there would understand. But by joining with other Southern Baptists and across the U.S., I can be a part of a network that supports more than 3,800 International Mission Board missionaries in countries around the world. And you can, too.

“It works like this: I contribute financially to my local church. My church, just like every other participating Southern Baptist church, sends a portion of what they receive to the state convention, which in turn distributes that money with one singular, overarching goal: to make sure people hear about Jesus in each state, across the nation and around the world.

“How many people do you suppose have surrendered their hearts and lives to Jesus because of the Cooperative Program? How many churches have been started and strengthened because of the Cooperative Program? Most importantly, how many people will be in heaven as a direct result of the Cooperative Program?

“God only knows the exact answer to all those questions, but this we know, the impact is enormous. By working together, Southern Baptists are seeing hundreds of thousands of people reached [and discipled] with the gospel every year.

“The Cooperative Program is the greatest evangelistic initiative of the modern church age, those aren’t just words.” (Abridged from The Christian Index, June 7, 2021.)

I say, “Thanks Roger.”

As I listened to 64 new missionaries testify, I was, and am, encouraged. We must be the network of support for them and their colleagues. We must not let the nay-sayers and those who want to make threats impede our working together. We are family — great people on mission with our great God to fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.

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