The very last words of Jesus, prior to his ascension, is a mandate we dare not ignore: “You shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
Jesus is ordering that we be part of a strategy that will take the gospel to every part of our community, our nation, and the entire world. How can we do this? The best answer I know is the Cooperative Program.
For seven years I was pastor of a church with more than 3,000 members. We could and did do many things to reach our community and our city. But even with several thousand members and a budget of more than one million dollars, we could not put missionaries in more than one-hundred countries, start churches, and staff ministry centers throughout the United States and its territories. We could not maintain colleges and seminaries to train ministers, establish benevolent institutions to care for orphans and the elderly, and many other things necessary to be an effective witness to our world! Again, the answer is the Cooperative Program.
Why is the Cooperative Program so important?
|It is our lifeline of mission support.|
Have you visited a church (probably not Southern Baptist) where the pictures of the missionaries they support are hanging on the walls of their church building? It is always impressive to see those 6 or 8 pictures, or maybe more, of missionaries serving in several places in the world.
However, if the pictures of the missionaries Southern Baptist churches support were hanging on the walls, there would be more than 10,500 of them! At the present time, the North American Mission Board supports over 5,100 missionaries throughout the United States and Canada (Judea and Samaria). Likewise, more than 5,300 missionaries are engaging over 1370 different people groups in the “uttermost parts of the world” through the International Mission Board.
As commendable as it may be, it is not sufficient to have mission work in 8 or 10 nations, or even 15 or 20 nations. Jesus said, “go ye therefore and disciple all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Only the Cooperative Program enables us to do together what none of us can do alone. That is being his witness “unto the uttermost part of the world.”
|It is our fishing line to the lost.|
Jesus said, “Come ye after me and I will make you to become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17).
Throughout my ministry I have sought to make soul-winning a priority. When I was a pastor, I dedicated at least fifteen hours of every week to evangelistic visitation and sought to train the Deacons and Sunday school workers to be soul winners also. Nearly every Sunday, someone “walked the aisle” that we had personally won to Christ.
But what about the thousands and millions outside our community, especially in foreign lands where we seldom travel? How are we to be faithful in fulfilling our Lord’s clear mandate that “repentance and remission of sins be preached in his name among all nations” (Luke 24:47)? Again, I believe the answer is the Cooperative Program.
All Southern Baptist missionaries, North American and International, are required to make personal witnessing a priority. During missionary orientation they are given thorough training on how to share their faith effectively and fruitfully. Their monthly and quarterly reports include data regarding the number of times they have shared their faith and the number who have prayed to receive Jesus. Regardless of where they serve or in what capacity, missionaries are expected to share their faith regularly.
I grew up on a farm in Missouri. On the back part of our farm was a pond stocked with catfish, blue gill, and perch. Nearly every day, I hiked to the pond with my fishing pole, line, and hook. I sat on the bank hoping by day’s end I would have at least two or three fish.
Needless to say, my intake of fish greatly increased the day it occurred to me I could fish with several hooks instead of just one. So, I rigged up half a dozen poles so I could have several lines and hooks in the water at the same time. Eureka! Now I could feed the whole family!
But the real revelation came when someone suggested I string a trotline across the pond with thirty or forty hooks in the water. I didn’t even have to watch it. I baited the hooks every morning, then came back at evening to reel in the catch! We had a fish fry every evening and put enough in the freezer to supply us with fish through the winter months. Praise God for trotline fishing!
Unfortunately, many churches and church staffs are fishing with one pole, one line, and one hook. The pole is the preacher, the line is his Sunday morning message, and the hook is the invitation. Is it any wonder that we so often go home disappointed with no catch?
Praise God for the Cooperative Program. Imagine a lake brimming with hungry fish. Imagine a trotline stretched across the lake with over 10,500 hooks? That trotline is our Cooperative Program and the hooks are the missionary personnel serving throughout the world!
|It is a budget-line for funding.|
Yes, money is important to God! That is why one out of every twenty-one verses in the New Testament speaks about stewardship. That is why God says in Leviticus 7:30 “all the tithe is the Lords, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, it is the Lord’s; it is holy unto the Lord.”
Can you imagine what Southern Baptists could do toward evangelizing our nation and our world if every Southern Baptist faithfully tithed their incomes as God clearly commands?
But there is also a responsibility for the church to be faithful in stewardship. Missions and fulfilling the Great Commission demands top priority. We can not do missions with the “left-overs.” Just as certainly as God demands that every believer tithe their income, it behooves every church to give at least ten per cent to world missions through the Cooperative Program.
The most counter-productive action a church can take to solve a financial problem is to cut back on mission giving. Probably a church would be better off financially by increasing gifts to missions. People are for more inclined to give generously to the church that gives top priority to mission support. “Give, and it will be given unto you, good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over” (Luke 6:38).
When your personal budget and church budget is completed, be sure your budget-line for missions is worthy of the Christ who gave His all for us.
The Cooperative Program is far more than a line in the church budget. It is the lifeline of mission support and the best way I know of getting the Gospel to the “uttermost part of the earth.”
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