Beyond spirituality, Southern Baptists (SBs) share some important practical distinctives. Two of them are fellowship and cooperation.
So, how do SBs function together? The answer has two sides. One side relates to tasks. The other side relates to relationships. Both are equally important. Each depends upon the other. Both share a dual application, too. Task and relationship refer to happenings inside a local church, as well as happenings between local churches. In this column, I tackle cooperation. Next week, I will process fellowship.
Cooperation impacts everything from church government, to committees and teams, to Bible studies and work groups. SBs believe every believer is important to every other believer in the church and in other churches. Cooperation is how SBs get things done. They do them together, not alone.
Of course, no cooperative venture is perfect. Individuals’ uniquenesses and imperfections challenge cooperation both on a local church scale and on a denominational scale. An estimated 46,000 congregations filled with individuals generates seemingly unending challenges. Yet, SBs do cooperate. They get it done. They consider it that important.
Cooperation requires intentionality and maintenance; otherwise, cooperative endeavors flounder and stray. Eventually, without attention, cooperation vanishes. Its vulnerability explains the importance of SBs’ annual meetings and convention-wide missions offerings. Those things keep churches and individuals engaged in cooperating together. There is no other way.
Cooperation makes the Southern Baptist Convention truly unique. Many SBs do not understand that cooperating with the SBC, the Baptist Convention of New Mexico, or a church’s local Baptist association is entirely voluntary—totally. Any church can withdraw cooperation at any time, upon its own decision to do so. That means SBs cooperate because they want to, not because they must.
Other denominations control local churches and exercise authority over their activities and decisions—sometimes vetoing local actions and choices. Since denominational relationships rely upon voluntary cooperation, the SBC can only request a church’s participation or decision, but cannot demand it. For SBs, local churches form the top layer of the denominational power flowchart. They have no pope, president, or general chairman over the church. Only Jesus Christ stands above the church.
But, cooperation does not mean every Southern Baptist church is identical. SBC churches vary in size, structure, ministries, financial practices, staffing arrangements, worship styles, musical preferences, architecture, schedules, dress codes and more. Cooperation arises between these dissimilar churches because they find common ground, like the Great Commission and doctrine, around which they can rally together.
Cooperating Southern Baptist churches realize that, together, they can do things that no single church can do alone. Cooperation birthed SBs’ Cooperative Program, a voluntary giving channel that funds most of the SBC’s cooperative ministries. Cooperation also birthed the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board, which have thousands of Gospel missionaries in the field. It birthed the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Cooperation is how SBs train thousands of ministers through six extraordinary seminaries.
As impressive as those cooperative ventures may seem, they are not all that SBs do together. SBs also established the SBC Executive Committee, LifeWay Christian Resources and GuideStone Financial Resources. Each entity does something SBs wanted to do together. And, though not governed by the convention, Southern Baptist women with a concern for missions together created Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU). All of these cooperative ventures thrive today because of SBs’ cooperative spirit.
In all of these cooperative endeavors, individuals from different churches across the United States still work together face to face. They serve on boards and vote at various national, state, and local convention or association meetings to decide what they want to do together. But, most of all, they serve together all over the world while they continue serving in their own community through their local church. Through cooperation, SBs push back spiritual darkness and spread the Gospel around the globe, literally.
Unlike other denominations, SBs can look at everything the SBC is doing and say, “I’m part of that; that’s mine.” People who cooperate together share a sense of ownership and wholesome pride about their work together.
Formal church training programs once included education about our cooperative denomination. But, today SBs are slowly forgetting who they are. If that continues, their unique identity will fade and ventures that were once cooperative efforts could take on an independent life and stray from Southern Baptist ideals. SBs must remember and practice cooperation. Without SBs, it cannot happen.
I’m proud, thrilled, and passionate to be a Southern Baptist. I love what other SBs and I are doing together. I love that I can participate and serve. I love having partners from every state. I am not saying everything is perfect. Neither do I agree with every detail. But, no one else is able to do what we are doing. I’m part of that. That’s mine!
Crossing the Lines
The ideas behind this blog emerged from my study and preaching of a message I titled "A Single Step." It was an unexpected message out of Philippians 2:12-18. I'm the one who was surprised. I had a whole different idea of where the sermon would go. Then, I got into the text and followed it. That led, eventually, to the response by individuals after the message. God worked in me and in our congregation. He's still at work.
If you'd like an easy way to check up on the blog, paste this RSS feed link into the bookmarks bar of your web browser. Just click below where it says "RSS Feed", and follow the instructions.