Jesus instructed in Acts 1:8, “… and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This may seem like a daunting task, but through cooperation and relationships, Southern Baptists around the world join together daily to accomplish this great challenge. In fact, cooperation is the hallmark of Southern Baptists. By combining our prayers, money, efforts, resources, people, and activities, we are able to advance the Gospel around the world more effectively and produce the largest mission sending movement in the world.
In Acts, Jerusalem represented the immediate area. Jesus encouraged us to start in our own backyards. Southern Baptists accomplish this by voluntarily cooperating with their local association. The local association networks pastors and churches together in an area. These networks create ministries such as support for pastors and training for churches leaders, cooperative mission projects like Disaster Relief teams, block parties, student rallies, and support for an area Baptist Collegiate Ministry. Churches cooperate by giving to the budget of the Association and participating in the leadership and ministries of the Association.
The early Church would have understood that Judea referred to their surrounding region. SBC churches also have the opportunity to cooperate with their state convention. The state convention is a network of SBC churches in that particular state or region. The state convention is not connected to either the associations in its states or the SBC by any legal or structural relationship. They are completely autonomous from associations and the SBC. Any work they may choose to do together is based solely on having a cooperative relationship and working voluntarily together in a particular ministry or project.
Churches cooperate with their state convention by giving to missions through the Cooperative Program and by participating in the leadership and ministries of the state convention. State conventions engage in such ministries as training for pastors and church leaders across church life, evangelism strategy development for the state, creating mission strategies and platforms for churches, coordination and training of Disaster Relief teams from across the state, and many other ministries. State conventions also operate Baptist Collegiate Ministries in their state. These conventions own and manage the properties, hire staff, support the strategies of BCM, and coordinate strategy development across the state. The churches of each state convention come together each year at their annual meeting to vote on the budget for their convention’s ministries and to determine how much of their Cooperative Program giving they want to forward to the SBC.
Southern Baptist Convention
When Jesus mentioned Samaria, he referred to an area outside the immediate and surrounding region. A church can cooperate with the larger network of churches known as the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC receives the aggregated Cooperative Program funds from each state convention and these dollars fuel the budgets of the SBC entities such as the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, and the seminaries. Through Southern Baptist seminaries and mission boards, local churches are able to cooperate together to reach the “ends of the earth.”
There is no hierarchy or legal structure that binds these organizations together. Every church makes the choice to cooperate voluntarily. Every organization chooses to cooperate voluntarily.
This structure is why “cooperation” is the word that is most important to and most used by Southern Baptists. Everything happens through relationships and partnerships. Southern Baptists are bound together by the common passion for the Great Commission. Cooperative missions work is the focus of what we do. Baptist universities and seminaries were created to train ministers and missionaries for the mission field. The SBC is strongest when we are pursuing a unified Great Commission vision together.
There is a strength to this structure. Theologically, Southern Baptists believe in autonomous local churches. This also creates an effective missional focus. A local church is driven by the Great Commission as expressed in Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8. A church and her pastor have a passion to reach their community, as well an obligation to reach the nations. Since every geographic area is obviously unique, the passion and missional strategy of each church is the most effective way to evangelize that city or region. The local association provides a network of like-minded and passionate churches to cooperate together to multiply their effectiveness in impacting their community. State conventions and the SBC provide platforms for churches to cooperate together to reach “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.”
BCM as a Model
Baptist Collegiate Ministry provides a great model of how local churches cooperate through these networks. BCM is fueled by the giving and service of churches across a state to reach college students with the Gospel. While few communities in a state will have a university, every church can express a heart to reach college students by cooperating with their state convention to support BCM. Relationships between student pastors in the state convention and BCM leaders create pathways to connect high school students to the BCM at the university where they enroll. BCMs can network the IMB as a partner to create mission opportunities specifically designed for college students.
These cooperative networks of autonomous SBC churches create a powerful framework for missional partnerships. The missional passion and energy of churches to fulfill the Great Commission is the engine of the SBC. When these churches cooperate together, fueled by their common passion, God can use the people and churches of the SBC to reach every person, in every town, every city, and every nation with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.