By Johnnie Godwin
Contributing Columnist, B&R
I believe in the Cooperative Program established in 1925. It is our best single-shot, laser beam approach in reaching the world for Christ. I say this at a time when most of our Southern Baptists are largely ignorant of their Baptist history and heritage and the history of missiology. They know little about the Cooperative Program and are tending to retreat to the old societal system. In that system, the “wheel” that hollered the loudest or squeaked the loudest got the most grease. James L. Sullivan was president of the Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources) He wrote a book titled Baptist Polity — As I See It. That grand book could correct our fragmentation in missions today if we would read it and learn from it and grow by it.
Why I believe in the Cooperative Program. In a nutshell, I believe in the Cooperative Program because I was born, bred, and convinced that Southern Baptists’ cooperative approach offered a laser-beam of power in focusing in a planned and united way how to carry out the Great Commission and items related to it. Some 90 years after the Southern Baptist Convention founded the Cooperative Program, it’s still the best way to do foreign missions together. You probably have little idea of what it takes to become an International Mission Board-appointed foreign missionary. Basically, it takes your life! From age 15 to 28, I gave my waking and working life to jump through every hoop required to become a foreign missionary: i.e. church recognition, denominational recognition, college, seminary, two years minimum pastoral field experience, writing my life history, and having perfect health and little indebtedness. I failed! After I gave my life to get the preparation done, I had ruined my health temporarily enough that the Foreign Mission Board (now IMB) thanked me and Phyllis but told us we didn’t match medical requirements to be appointed.
The Cooperative Program and IMB have integrity in stewardship of missions funds! But in our case, guess what? I became an editor at the Baptist Sunday School Board and then a publisher — in six positions over 22 years. In that calling, we both got to do missions in Moscow in Iron Curtain Days; to go to Beijing and serve through international book fairs and house churches. I got to go to Europe and train young Christian publishers who had managed to exist despite living under Communism. God enabled Phyllis and me to become more effective foreign missionaries than if we had been appointed by the IMB. In other words, doing missions is not an either-or approach; rather, it is how God uses all efforts.
What about the 2015 oxymoronic retreat in SBC missions? I do not sugarcoat! It grieved me to death to hear an invite for up to 800 select veteran missionaries to early retirement and to come home to serve. They were invited with select criteria to retire with a pittance of retirement or severance pay to come home for jobs that didn’t exist for many of them. At the same time, the IMB and Southern Baptists appointed over 300 new missionaries. If the “Dunkirk-like” retreat of 2015 was a victory to fight another day in missions, it was a pyrrhic victory. A pyrrhic victory is one that costs about as much to win as those who were defeated had to pay. Not a good trade-off. Yet, I’m past second-guessing our fine IMB leadership that is in place. As Southern Baptists, we owe it to 3,500 missionaries to support what they’ve given their lives for. We owe it to new missionaries to support them until we don’t have bread to eat ourselves. And we need to appoint new missionaries. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is named for a woman missionary who simply gave her life and stomped through Southern Baptist life with her letters for support, for more missionaries, and with her sisters at WMU. All the offering goes directly to the foreign fields.
Lottie Moon goal for 2016: $155 million. If you’re Southern Baptist or get materials to promote the 2016 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, you won’t find $155 million on the poster or the envelopes. That is a crying shame. On the back of the LMCO envelope, it does say, “… the gospel resounds.” And that is true! It resounds best when we come together in unity in our calling and bring all the tithes and offerings into the storehouse: the church. And then we gather $155 million to directly support the 3,500 foreign missionaries.
My SBC church as a model? Yes, it is a model! No church is perfect. No pastor is perfect. No staff is perfect. But in obeying the Great Commission, all of our churches are mandated to be much more like the Philadelphia church in Revelation than like the lukewarm church at Laodicea. Our Lord said that since the Laodicean church was neither hot nor cold, it made Him sick at his stomach; and he would vomit it out (Revelation 3). My own church is more like Philadelphia: afire for Christ! At age 79, I’ve never belonged to an unworthy church or a church that wasn’t missions-minded. My current church (First Baptist Church, Hendersonville) is the most balanced I’ve seen in Cooperative Program support, local support, and individual cooperation with our appointed foreign missionaries. May God forgive me if I’ve bragged too much on my own church; but like Paul, I boast in Christ and not the church. God in Christ is the great Enabler for a new day in Great Commission missions. May you and your church join the Christian soldiers to move forward. We don’t know when Christ will return, but we need to be ready. We do know we have a commission to carry out in limited time until Christ returns (Matthew 28:18-20). Let this be a new day in obeying the Great Commission!
— Copyright 2016 by Johnnie C. Godwin. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.