By Roc Collins
Director of Strategic Objectives, TBMB
Before the inception of the digital age, before the first plane lifted from the sandy straights of Kitty Hawk, before the technologies of steam, coal, and fossil fuel, an ancient crowd heard an astounding challenge, “Go into all the world. … Teach all nations. … Go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the world!”
In a world where jets soar over the seas in less than a day, it’s easy to forget how mindboggling that call must have been. The ends of the earth? How? Emboldened by the glimpse of their resurrected Savior, they dared to dream it was possible.
As Tennessee Baptists, our predecessors also dreamed it was possible. In 1925, they not only dreamed, they made a commitment to invest sacrificially in making that dream a reality. They, along with other state conventions gathered in Memphis to give birth to the Cooperative Program. This radical, dangerous commitment soared as they committed to cooperatively invest in the Great Commission.
Four years later, the Great Depression swept across the nation. Tennessee Baptists, in the midst of poverty and desperation, continued with unwavering commitment to give through the Cooperative Program. World War II set the world on fire, but the Cooperative Program survived. Through every chapter of our history, the Cooperative Program sent tens of thousands of missionaries to the ends of the earth to share the Good News of Jesus. Orphans found homes. University students all over the nation were saved. Survivors of disaster found hope. Seminaries thrived. American cities experienced awakenings. Ministers were strengthened and supported.
Without the Cooperative Program, millions worldwide would never have heard the powerful name of Jesus. In the simplest of terms, that’s what the Cooperative Program has always been about: Jesus. Through this 94-year quest, Southern Baptists set aside their minor differences and overwhelming hardships to sacrificially honor the Great Commission.
For Tennessee Baptists, this rallying cry sent 500 million dollars out of our state to proclaim the Good News that Jesus saves. We celebrate half a billion examples of Tennessee Baptists living up to the moniker: The Volunteer State. Churches volunteered their time and a percentage of their offerings to advance the Good News.
We’ve tested the power of cooperation. Small churches and large churches have worked together, not separately. We’ve proven that we can do infinitely more together than we could ever do independently.
Darkness grows in what many have described as a post-Christian culture. We have weighty challenges. Along with these challenges, we find incredible opportunities. As a nation we can boast history’s strongest economy. Dickens words echo into our culture: “These are the best of times and the worst of times.” Because of this, we are challenging every Tennessee Baptist church to respond with generosity and sacrifice for the sake of the lost and dying generations here and half a world away.
Let’s revisit that mountain in Galilee and consider the words spoken to these first followers. What would these men and women say to us if they saw our churches and the vast billions of unredeemed people around the world? It’s an interesting question. What would they say to us? I think I have a pretty good idea what their words would be. I’m sure they’d say, “You can do it!” Seeing our technology, our wealth, our ability to travel, our communication tools, they’d say with unending enthusiasm, “What are you waiting for!? Work together! Jesus is with you!”
In fact, we see glimpses of heaven’s grandstand in the book of Hebrews: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Perhaps even now they are cheering us on as we work cooperatively to fulfill the mission this great cloud of witnesses began so long ago!
Today, we are celebrating 500 million dollars sent out of our state through the Cooperative Program, but one day we will get a chance to celebrate everything we accomplished together as we reunite in heaven. There are so many stories yet to be told. There are missionaries yet to be sent. There are innovations that we have yet to utilize. I’m excited to see what Tennessee Baptists will accomplish this year and in the years to come. We can do it if we continue to work together with a passion that supersedes our fears and desires for “safe” giving. Let’s dare greatly, give dangerously, and look forward to that grand celebration.
We can do it!