SBC PRESIDENT’S ANNUAL ADDRESS
OWEN COOPER, who retired May 1 as president of the Mississippi and Coastal Chemical Corp. in Yazoo City, Miss., is the first layman in 13 years to serve as president of the 12-million member Southern Baptist Convention. He was elected president of the SBC in 1972 in Philadelphia, and since then has devoted almost full time to the presidency. Born in Warren County, Miss., April 19, 1908, Mr. Cooper is a graduate of Mississippi State University, the University of Mississippi, and the Jackson School of Law, Jackson, Miss. After a few years as a vocation agriculture teacher and worker with the Mississippi State Planning Commission, Cooper became executive director of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation about 23 years ago. In that position, he discovered during World War II a shortage of nitrogen fertilizer, and led a campaign in Mississippi among farmers to establish their own fertilizer cooperative. Mississippi Chemical Corp. now sells about $2 million worth of fertilizer annually. Cooper conceived, organized and built the company into one of the nation’s largest fertilizer producers. In the SBC, Cooper has held almost every possible leadership post on local church and denominational levels. He has been president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention, Chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, and vice president of the Baptist World Alliance. He is a deacon and chairman of the missions committee for First Baptist Church, Yazoo City, Miss. He is founder and president of the Pan American Union of Baptist Men, and is a former vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention. His activities in community, state, business and professional, and government organizations are too numerous to list. He has served as chairman of the board for Mississippi Action for Progress (MAP), the statewide Head Start poverty program, and has been active in many other similar programs. He was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree by Mississippi College.
As your president, I am happy to report that the “state of convention” is excellent. There exists throughout the convention a renewed zeal for evangelism, an increased concern for missions, a greater commitment in outreach, an expanded involvement of the laity, a larger amount in gifts, and a new desire for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the lives of individuals and in the churches.
Information prepared by the Research Service Department of the Sunday School Board is most encouraging.
In 1972 Southern Baptists passed twelve million in membership, set a record in number of baptisms, and reached the billion dollar mark in total receipts.
Church membership for the nation’s largest evangelical body increased nearly a quarter of a million persons (240,821) over the 1971 total to a high of 12,067,284 during 1972.
The number of baptisms was 445,725, an increase of 36,066 over the previous year. This represented a new high, the previous record for one year being 429,063 in 1959.
There are 34,534 churches cooperating with the Southern Baptist Convention. The number of churches increased by 93 from the 1971 report.
Sunday School enrollment totaled 7,177,651, an increase of 36,198 for the year. This is the first increase in seven years.
Church Music enrollment increased by 84,024 during 1972 to bring the total to 1,173,004.
The Brotherhood had an enrollment of 454,272, an increase of 2,734.
Training Union enrollment totaled 2,044,445, dropping by 62,410 from the 1971 figure.
Giving by Southern Baptists continued to increase. Total receipts reach $1,071,512,302, passing the billion dollar mark for the first time, an increase of $96,239,363.
Contributions to all mission causes increased $14,226,635 for a total of $174,772,885.
We have cause to thank God for His blessings and for the progress our convention has made; but lest we be lulled into a false sense of complacency, may I remind you that:
1. there was one baptism for each 27 Southern Baptists last year,
2. the average church gives less than 10% to state, home and world missions through the Cooperative Program,
3. there was a net gain of only 93 churches last year,
4. there was provided less than 15 cents per capita last year, the price of a good candy bar, for spreading the Gospel through radio and television,
5. there was provided about $1.00 per capita last year, from all sources, for the mission Program of the Home Mission Board,
6. there was provided about $3.00 per capita last year, from all sources, to carry the Gospel to the uttermost ends of the word through the Foreign Mission Board.
7. About one-half million persons were baptized last year, at home and abroad, out of a net world population increase of 70 million,
8. the mission thrust into the northeast one-sixth of this nation, where one-half of the people reside, is too little, and, I pray, not too late.
Nonetheless, 1972 was a good year for Southern Baptists and we should be grateful to God for His blessings.
SHARE THE WORD
The theme of this convention “Share the Word Now” has intrigued me since it was first announced. It would be difficult to find four words which so nearly sum up the purpose for which the Southern Baptist Convention was organized, the reason why we have state conventions, the goal of our associations, the driving force of the local churches, and the Christian imperatives that rest upon each of us as individuals.
When the Southern Baptist Convention was organized in 1845, its purpose was stated to be “eliciting, combining and directing the energies of the Baptist Denomination of Christians for the propagation of the Gospel.” From time to time we may have restated our purpose but we have never changed our purpose—bringing men to God through Jesus Christ. Today we assemble as messengers and workers from each of the 50 states and many foreign lands, assembling under the banner—“Share the Word Now”. This is still our goal as it was the goal of those assembled in Augusta, Georgia in 1845.
We must Share the Word Now. We must Share the Word with
Assurance (Isaiah 55:11)
Boldness (Acts 4:31)
Diligence (Hebrews 12:15), and
Eagerness (Acts 4:2)
We must Share the Word with
Faith (John 11:40)
Gladness (Ps. 100:2)
Holiness (Romans 12:1)
Imagination—Inspiration (Matthew 10:19), and
Joy (Acts 8:5, 8)
We must Share the Word with
Knowledge (I Cor. 15:34)
Love (John 15:17)
Meekness (II Tim. 2:55)
Necessity (I Cor. 9:16), and
Obedience (Matthew 28:19-20)
We must Share the Word with
Power (Acts 1:8)
Quickness (Rev. 22:12)
Rejoicing (Ps. 107:22)
Strength (Ps. 71:16), and
Teaching (Col. 3:16)
We must Share the Word with
Understanding (Col. 1:9)
Victory (I John 5:4)
Wisdom (Luke 21:15)
X-pectation (I Cor. 9:22)
Yearning (Romans 10:1), and
Zeal (Acts 4:20)
Share the Word Now. That is why God caused the Word to be made flesh and dwell among us. Share the Word Now; that is why we are organized, that is why we give, that is why we teach, that is why we preach, that is why we witness, and that is why we love.
As never before there is a need to Share the Word Now.
We need to Share the Word because there are more problems in the world than ever before and in sharing the Word we offer solutions to these problems. The Word of God is the solution to the sin problem, and how sin abounds in the world today!
In our permissive society there has never been more immorality, adultery, divorce, broken homes, sensuality, pornography and illegitimacy. For the ills of our permissive society we need to share the Word now.
The problems of the home are numerous and disastrous. There are frustrated parents, rebellious children and generation gaps. There is child abuse, divorce, and infidelity. For the problems of the home we need to share the Word now.
In our society we find a multiplicity of problems including those inherent in poverty, in ignorance, in ghettos, in crime, in lawlessness, in drugs, in alcoholism, in arson, in rioting and in every form of social disorder known to man. Sharing the Word of God is needed for social problems.
In the world of government and international relations we have the problem of war and peace; of international intrigue and political espionage; of bribery and the betrayal of public trust; of an indifferent electorate, of over emphasized nationalism, of impractical isolationism, of over enthusiastic internationalism; and of feeding the mouth that bites you, of aiding the tongue that lashes you, and of nourishing the body that opposes you. Sharing the Word of God is necessary for governmental problems.
And speaking of problems in government with all of its evil and bad consequences, there is a lesson for us in Watergate. It shows us that wrongdoing is no respecter of persons; that exalted position offers no immunity for crime; that misuse of money is the root of all kinds of evil; and that the secular and materialistic standards of a secular and materialistic society operate on a basis that every man has his price, that there is no wrong if you are not caught, and that Christian ethics and virtue died as our scientific and technological age was born.
If from Watergate we learn that there are moral standards, that there are Christian ethics, that there is right and wrong, and that we need to return to the simple virtues of our founding fathers—then Watergate may have been worth the price.
There are problems of our business and economic society. The problem of unemployment, of under-employment, of disrupting the national economy with strikes and lockouts, of greedy employers, the demands for increased welfare, increased social security, increased government aid of all kinds, and the demand for lower taxes.
The problem of inflation eating away the retirement benefits and life savings of the elderly. The problem of continuing the vicious seemingly unending cycle of higher cost, higher wages, higher profits, higher inflation, and on and on.
The problems of business need Sharing the Word of God Now.
The answer to our personal problems such as prejudice and jealousy and hate and envy is sharing the Word of God. So many people have personal problems in the age in which we live. In our desire for better homes, more convenience, better clothes; better and more automobiles, a second vacation home, more leisure time, more social and civic and fraternal organizations we create all manner of problems. With the television blaring, the children screaming, the husband demanding, and the wife defending, we have a picture all too common in our lives that causes frustration, despair and often hopelessness. Sharing the Word of God in the lives of individuals can solve these personal problems.
We need to Share the Word Now because there are so many more people in the world today than ever before. I feel our responsibility is in direct proportion to the number of people who are needing the Word of God. There are nine times as many people in the world today as there were when Christ was on earth.
There are perhaps two billion people in the world today who have never heard the name of Christ as Saviour, as Messiah, as Forgiver of sin, as Source of personal power and as Guide for life.
There will be approximately one hundred and twenty million people born this year; there will be approximately fifty million to die. There will be a population gain this year of approximately seventy million. On the hundred and twenty million persons who are born this year approximately eight million will become Protestants, approximately twenty-two million will become Catholics and approximately ninety million will never hear of Christ as their Saviour or never respond to Him as their Lord. There are 200,000 more people today than yesterday; 8,500 more this hour than the previous hour. The thought of ninety million people each year needing Christ as their Saviour, even as you and I need Him as ours, is such a compelling reason for sharing the Word that we need not go further.
We should share the Word because the Scripture tells us to.
Luke 10:2 reads: “Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.”
In Romans 10:15, we read: “And how shall they preach, except they be sent?”
In Mark 16:15, we read: “And he said unto them, go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”
In Matthew 28:19, we read: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
In Acts 1:8(b), we read: “Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.”
God has commanded it, the Scripture has recorded it, and our obligation is to obey it.
We must Share the Word because the Scripture tells us to.
Where should we Share the Word?
The Scripture says that we should witness beginning where we are and extending to the uttermost parts of the world. Begin where we are? This means we should witness in our kitchen, in our dining room, in our den and in our living room. It means we should witness in our front yard and across the fence in our back yard. It means we should witness to our neighbors next door and to our neighbors around the world. It means we should witness where we work, where we shop, where we bank, where we play, and where we make our social contacts. It means we should witness as a Sunday School teacher, as a church visitor, or as a church leader. It means we should witness to church prospects and to the lost who should be related to the church. It means we should witness when we travel, when we are on vacation, when we are on a business trip, attending a conference, at the civic club, at the country club, at the hunting club, at the social club and at the garden club.
We should also witness to the uttermost parts of the earth. That means we should witness to the country, to the rural settlement, to the village, to the town, in the city, and in the metropolis. It means we should witness in the townhouses, and in the ghetto, in the single family residence, and in the high-rise, in the row house and in the tenant house, and, in the hovel and in the mansion.
We should share the Word in the fifty states of the union, in the territories of our country, in the 77 countries where we have foreign missionaries and as soon as possible, in the 100 or more countries where we do not have foreign missionaries.
We should witness in the heat of the equator, in the cold of the frigid zone, and in the comfort of the temperature zone. We should witness in the dust of the desert, in the dampness of the rain forest, in the depth of the valley, in the height of the mountain, and in the vastness of the plain.
Yea, wherever there are people, this is where we should witness.
Who should Share the Word?
When Jesus was on the Mount of Olives immediately preceding His ascension He turned in to His disciples, His followers, the believers, and said to them, “Ye shall be my witnesses.” The term He used was an all inclusive imperative referring to each of them.
He did not get Peter, James and John together and say, “Now you have been with Me in special places and under special circumstances. You are my executive committee. You are to be My witnesses.”
Nor did He get His apostles together and say, “You have been especially trained for the purpose of witnessing. You are the ones that will witness.”
He turned to the assembled group and using an all inclusive term, commissioned all of them to be His witnesses.
Who shall witness? The pastor, the minister of education, the minister of music, the associate pastor, the Home missionary, the Foreign missionary, these shall be witnesses.
The layman or the laywoman; the white collar worker, the blue collar worker; the educated, the uneducated; the poor and the rich; the experienced and the inexperienced; the employer and the employee; the farmer and the city dweller; the secretary and the executive; the teacher and the pupil.
Who shall Share the Word? The white and the black; the brown and the yellow; all people who are followers of Jesus should share the Word.
Who should Share the Word? Those at home and those who travel; those at work and those at play; those who are bold and those who are timid; those who find it easy and those who find it difficult.
Who should Share the Word? The pastors, the preachers, or the prophets in our churches. All 34,000 of them should continue to share the Word with a new zeal, not only in their pulpits but in their communities and in places where the Good News is still Good News. Pastors should share the Word.
The missionaries should Share the Word. Missionaries everywhere have this responsibility. There are 2,225 Home missionaries, some located in each of the 50 states and in Puerto Rico and Panama, who have a unique opportunity of sharing the Word. The 2,500 Foreign missionaries, located in 77 countries throughout the world have a responsibility of sharing the Word.
Our evangelists need to Share the Word. An increasing number of ministers in our midst are feeling the call for full-time evangelistic service. We commend those who act upon God’s calling in making themselves available, on faith, to share the Word as an evangelist. We only have to look about us to see the great things that are happening in this field. Evangelists should share the Word.
Our deacons need to Share the Word. There are an estimated 350,000 deacons of the Southern Baptist churches. These are men who have been set aside, who have been ordained, who have had hands layed upon them. I personally believe the deacons are the most under-used special, identifiable group of men in the Southern Baptist Convention. Nothing would do more to magnify the office of deacon than developed programs in the local church that would individually and collectively involve deacons in sharing the Word. The deacon needs to be challenged to extend his vision beyond the local church, to acknowledge his responsibility worldwide and recognize that his opportunity is wherever there are lost people. When a man is ordained as a deacon, where does his actual responsibility end? Is he a deacon in the association or a deacon of the association? Is he a deacon in the state convention or is he a deacon of the state convention? Is he a deacon in the Southern Baptist Convention or is he a deacon of the Southern Baptist Convention?
The deacons of our 34,000 Southern Baptist churches should be involved in existing and proven methods of sharing the Word and challenged by new and innovative activities which involve them in sharing the Word.
The laity, men and women, should be involved in Sharing the Word. The mere fact that it takes 27 of us, most of whom are of the laity, to win one to Christ indicates that we are not effective in sharing the Word. An overriding need of our convention is the effective, dedicated and meaningful involvement of the laity in sharing the Word.
Young people and students should Share the Word. And what a fruitful source this can be and is when properly utilized. Committed young people witness with boldness and a refreshing sincerity that mocks some of us of the older generation. They are most effective with their peers. Young People should share the Word.
How should we Share the Word?
The Scripture clearly points out that all of us do not have the same gifts. Sharing the Word, therefore, is not something that can be regimented with the sameness nor executed with uniformity. In sharing the Word each of us needs to discover the gift that we have and apply that gift in an effective manner.
To some He gave the gift of prophecy or preaching. The pulpit is a great, if not the greatest, place for sharing the Word with those who come into the House of God. Fortunately Southern Baptists have pastors who believe in using the pulpit in sharing the Word of God. Fortunately our pulpits are not being surrendered to lesser claims than that of proclaiming the Word of God. Thank you pastors for maintaining the pulpit as a place for sharing the Word of God. Unfortunately, though fewer and fewer lost people, particularly adults, are coming into our churches, therefore, we must go to them.
The revival meeting is still an effective place for Sharing the Word of God. The old-fashioned meeting is proving to be ever fresh and new. Increasing results from revival meetings indicate that people are responding to a well planned, a well executed and a well preached evangelistic campaign supported by prayer and visitation.
Crusades of all types are being effectively used in Sharing the Word. These may be area crusades, citywide crusades, simultaneous crusades or lay-led crusades where personal witnessing and testimonies are emphasized.
There are other traditional ways for Sharing the Word. The Sunday School, church visitation, personal witnessing, distribution of the Scripture, tract distribution, the radio and television, to name a few.
There are many new and interesting ways being developed to Share the Word. The coffee house ministry, the beach ministry, the resort ministry, the campus ministry, lay witness missions, church renewal, lay witness training, bus ministry, Bible study groups, prayer breakfasts, sharing groups, distribution of Christian books, Bible translations, agricultural missions, and a multitude of opportunities that are opening before us now, beckoning Christ’s disciples to come or go and share the Word. The question is not whether I have properly classified these techniques as old or new, that is immaterial. The question is whether we are personally using one or more of them in order to share the Word in our church community, in our Judea, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.
We should not be afraid to work with others in witnessing. Key ’73 offers Southern Baptists an unusual opportunity to share our knowledge, experience and expertise in evangelism and personal soul winning with other Christian groups. We should not miss this opportunity for we cannot escape the accountability that goes with our ability. It is equally important to teach another to witness as it is to witness.
We should not be judgmental if others differ in their methods of witnessing. I know I have a tendency to believe, or even say, “if you don’t do it my way; if you don’t think like I do; if you don’t believe exactly as I do, you are wrong and I will oppose you.”
Assuming a belief in the Bible and its teaching as summarized in the “statement of faith and practice”, which 99.44% of Southern Baptists believe; there should be room for difference. The day all Southern Baptists think alike about the application of the Gospel, methods of sharing the Word, techniques of outreach ministries, or even exactly what should be written in our quarterlies or taught in our seminaries, that day stagnation begins, innovation ends, and growth diminishes.
One thing that occurs to me as being worse than for Baptists to think differently is for us to all think alike; one thing more disturbing than for us to act differently is for us all to act alike. Different thoughts and different actions bring the new, the innovative, the creative and the progressive. Baptists will winnow the new thoughts and new actions; they will eliminate the chaff, they will keep that which is good, and in so doing keep the ones who think differently and act creatively in proper bounds. If in this connection we have anything to fear it is our own judgment, and if we have anything to distrust it is our own perception.
Incidentally, if we share the Word effectively, and with a surrendered will, problems in the church and denomination will be resolved. Where there are conflicts, share the Word and the conflicts will be resolved; when there are disputes, share the Word and the disputes will be settled; when there are divisions, share the Word and unity will prevail; when there are doubts, share the Word and the doubts will be removed; when there are fears, share the Word and courage will come; when there is despair, share the Word and hope will rise; when there is weakness, share the Word and strength will increase; and when there is prejudice, share the Word and love will reign.
We must Share the Word with full cooperation between the agencies of the convention.
The Program Statements adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention outlining the area of responsibilities for its various agencies are not to establish impenetrable iron curtains to make cooperative action between them difficult if not impossible, nor are they to raise bamboo curtains as a perimeter of authority over which there will be combat for position and responsibility; rather these guidelines are to be considered as line of authority for purposes of administration, which lines should be crossed in a spirit of cooperation on projects that require combined efforts of one or more agencies, even if it means that “he must increase and I must decrease”.
It is unthinkable that this or any previous convention would knowingly take action to prevent cooperation between its agencies, especially in Sharing the Word; and it is equally unthinkable that an agency of this convention would take refuge behind any action of the convention to avoid cooperation with other agencies in sharing the Word.
All of us should Share the Word, individually, collectively and cooperatively.
We should Share the Word with volunteer mission workers. It is my sincere belief that in five years’ time a properly developed, financed and coordinated program could result in enlisting annually 5,000 man-years of service for a volunteer mission service; this is to supplement the work being done by the Association, State, Home and Foreign Missionaries.
It is appropriate to ask the question, “Where would these volunteers come from?”
1. We should first turn to the ranks of the retired. Sixty-five is the standard age of retirement now. It will soon be 62 and then 60, and in the lifetime of some of your children, it will be lower than that.
A. An estimated 80,000 Southern Baptists reach the retirement age each year. Of this number, surely 975 could be recruited annually for two to three years of service in some type of mission work.
(1) Of the 975 there would be 600 retiring lay persons (300 couples) needed each year for three years of service.
(2) 100 retiring pastors would be enlisted annually for an average of two years of service, and
(3) 100 persons should be enlisted annually for a period of two years of service from those retiring from church staffs, seminaries, educational institutions, convention agencies and other related activities.
B. Many Southern Baptists retire before the age of 65. Some of these would be available for service. Of special interest are:
(1) the military from which 50 retirees per year might be enlisted for 10 years, and
(2) persons who have attained their financial goals in life of which 50 persons might be enlisted for an average of 5 years of service.
2. Why not call upon many Southern Baptist churches to release their pastors or staff workers for a period of one, two or three months to go and share the Word. I firmly believe that if a church would release its pastor and pay all of his expenses for a period of one, two or three months of missions service, the result would be beneficial to the laymen who would take over in the pastors’ absence and it would be beneficial to the pastor who would get heavily involved in mission endeavors. Is it too much to ask a church that is hearing the Gospel preached over and over, two or three times a week to share its pastor or a staff member in an area where there are those who have never heard the Gospel? Certainly 400 churches would cooperate in this program.
3. Another source of workers could be the pairing of two small churches. They might work out an arrangement where the pastor of one of the churches would go for a six-month period of service and the pastor of the other church would serve both churches for six months. At the end of this period of time the pastors would reverse their situations. Would it be too much to expect 100 churches in our Convention to cooperate in such a program each year?
4. Southern Baptists send out approximately 1,000 summer student missionaries for three months. Most of them through the Home Mission Board program and the Baptist Student Union program. The Mormon Church sends out 13,000 young people for two years. Is it too much to expect Southern Baptists to send out 2,400 summer missionaries for three months each year?
This could probably be done if the Business and Financial Plan of the Convention was modified so that a request could be made of the home churches to assist in supporting their member summer student missionary. I believe such a change should be made. I believe such a change would add to mission giving and not take away from it, for the students would return to their churches as mission enthusiasts and could easily stimulate greater giving both through the Cooperative Program and through special mission offerings.
Man individual churches and some organized groups send out summer student missionaries. These programs should all be well coordinated for maximum efficiency and minimum conflicts.
5. I also believe that we should be operating a “job placement service” with the same vigor, enthusiasm, skill and commitment that Snelling and Snelling run their business. I know from personal experience that people will respond to a call to take jobs in mission areas. I know that jobs can be found. We should be busy about the task of seeing that this is done. If we secured only 260 jobs a year under this program and they were filled for a period of five years, this would result in an accumulated total of 1,300 self-employed lay missionaries on the field. Some effective work has been done in this area but limited personnel, limited funds and perhaps limited coordination have restricted the scope and the results of this type of volunteer enlistment.
The above would provide 5,000 man-years of service annually from persons who could be secured for a relatively small additional cost if we set our hand to the task of calling them out.
In order to enlist the 5,000 workers, I believe all the agencies involved (the Home Mission Board, the Foreign Mission Board, the Sunday School Board, the Woman’s Missionary Union, the Brotherhood, and perhaps others) should jointly develop a plan to establish a way to cooperatively, consistently, insistently, and persistently call out these volunteers.
I know there are problems, there are obstacles, there are difficulties, but if the idea is valid and if the workers are needed, the problems can be solved, the obstacles removed and the difficulties overcome.
What would these people do? Some would work for pioneer state conventions; many could work in foreign service; scores could work with associations; hundreds could work with struggling pioneer churches; and thousands would assist in opening new work. Remember, it is the laborers who are few; the fields are white unto harvest!
We should Share the word by increased mission giving through the Cooperative Program. Southern Baptists have made acceptable but not noteworthy gains in the area of stewardship during the past decades. It is true that our total giving is up year after year. As previously stated, in 1972 Southern Baptist churches gave a total of over one billion dollars for all causes for the first time. This is a milestone. This is an achievement that can be acknowledged with pardonable pride. The portion, however, of the Cooperative Program has remained relatively constant for the past thirty years. The truth is that this portion has declined somewhat, diminishing from 10.07% in 1942 to 8.54% in 1972, the lowest percent in many years. It is the increased number of members and the higher per capita income that result in our increased giving and apparently not a greater commitment to stewardship on the part of Southern Baptists.
The great challenge to Southern Baptists in the area of stewardship is to magnify the Biblical basis of stewardship. If we bring our tithes into the storehouse there will be “meat for all”. The challenge to the pastor, the challenge to the deacon, the challenge to the entire congregation is that of seeking widespread commitment to the Biblical basis of stewardship. When Southern Baptists give as the Scripture teaches, there will be a sufficient amount of money, then the method of distribution will cease to be so important and the need for funds to carry on the work through the entire structure of Baptist life can and will be met.
Pastors should continually reaffirm their faith in and allegiance to mission giving through the Cooperative Program. This reaffirmation of faith in and allegiance to the Cooperative Program should be done regularly and not just a special sermon during the annual budget raising campaign. It is not necessary to “reverence” the Cooperative Program, it is necessary to “reveal” the Cooperative Program. He should speak in a positive and unapologetic manner on this subject and the total area of stewardship.
Information recently given to me suggested that there are 5,129 churches in the Southern Baptist Convention that made no contribution through the Cooperative Program last year. It is difficult for me to believe that there are that many churches in the Southern Baptist Convention that would not give through the Cooperative Program if the pastor reaffirmed his faith in the Cooperative Program and his allegiance to it and held it up before the congregation as a channel through which individual Baptists can participate in worldwide mission causes. Pastor, you have a responsibility at this point.
Every person in a place of leadership and responsibility among Southern Baptists should be vitally interested in the Cooperative Program, frequently and accurately referred to as a “life-line” of mission support in our denomination. The support of all Baptists is desirable, but the support of pastors and denominational leaders—the opinion makers, the information distributors and the motivators—is essential.
All denominational workers, agency employees, seminary professors and others who are supported by the Cooperative Program should be constructive in their comments about it. Destructive criticism, caustic remarks or ridicule of the Cooperative Program is inexcusable from those who live by it, and such remarks ill become the maker and reflect on the agency he represents.
The Cooperative Program is not perfect but it is the best plan available to Southern Baptists, and until someone discovers a better way we should not destroy what we have.
Between 1963 to 1971, the per capita income of the U.S. increased by 69 percent. From 1963 to 1972, one more year, the per capita giving for Southern Baptist causes through the Cooperative Program increased by one 38 per cent. We are not keeping up with the increase in per capita giving. If we had kept up with the per capita giving we would have available for allocation $6,850,000 more than we had. If we had given seventy-five cents more per member through the Cooperative Program, the twenty-five cents per member allocated to Southern Baptists causes would have met all requests in full, from every agency of the Convention for 1974.
In 1975, Baptists will observe the 50th Anniversary of the Cooperative Program. To me this is not an occasion of victory and triumph. To me this is an occasion for thanksgiving and commitment. We have an effective tool, we have used it to a moderate degree of its potential; we should give thanks for the progress made and renew our commitment to greater gain in the future.
As the 50th Anniversary of the Cooperative Program is used for an occasion to recommit ourselves to it, it should also be used as a task of informing all Baptists about mission support through the Cooperative Program and a reaffirmation of their goals to make the Great Commission an accomplished reality in this generation.
We should Share the Word Now by increased giving through the Cooperative Program.
This Convention will not be remembered by what we say here and it may not be remembered by what we do here—but it will be remembered as a great Convention by what we say and do when we leave here.
If this Convention inspires the messengers to go back to their administrative offices, to go back to their churches, to go back to their mission fields, to go back to their places of work and to go back to their homes with a renewed determination to Share the Word with the freshness of a new convert, with the sincerity of an ardent believer and with the assurance of a veteran soldier of the cross—then this will be a great Convention.
May God open our eyes to see the tasks before us, may He strengthen our bodies for the performance of the tasks and may He anoint our lips with the Word to Share Now.