The Cooperative Program is a miraculous system of distributing resources that can help Southern Baptists impact the entire world for Christ, according to One Sacred Effort, a new book by Chad Owen Brand and David E. Hankins available from Broadman & Holman Publishers.
"It is our contention that the Cooperative Program has the potential, when rightly employed, for moving Southern Baptist ministers from the ordinary, the average, the good — to superlative, outstanding, great fruitfulness for the Kingdom of God," Brand and Hankins write. "Tell your people the Cooperative Program can help them move from good to great."
Brand is professor of Christian theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Hankins is the former vice president for the Cooperative Program with the SBC Executive Committee and serves currently as executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
Founded in 1925, the Cooperative Program provides a unified system through which Southern Baptists can support missions, theological education, and other ministries of the SBC. One Sacred Effort chronicles the background and working of the Cooperative Program over the past eighty years.
"Chad Brand and David Hankins have prepared a book that tells who Southern Baptists are and how they get their work done," writes Morris H. Chapman, president and chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee, in the foreword. "One Sacred Effort not only celebrates the Cooperative Program's great accomplishments of the past but champions its usefulness for the future."
The book's opening chapters examine the biblical, theological, and historical foundations of the SBC and the Cooperative Program. Of primary importance for Southern Baptists is the authority of Scripture, the authors write.
"Methodologically, Scripture needs to be considered since it is the interpretation of biblical texts that shapes our doctrinal convictions in the first place," they write. "We do not get our doctrines from our own experiences, culture, or our institutions but from the Bible. This is a Baptist conviction."
From the time of the New Testament, churches have cooperated in ministry and missions endeavors, Brand and Hankins write. While every Baptist congregation is autonomous, Baptists have a firm biblical foundation for cooperation, they argue.
"The early churches were autonomous bodies under the lordship of Christ, but they were not independent entities," they write. "Instead, they assisted one another in ministry, they sought advice from one another when faced with difficult situations, and they sent money to help one another when there was a need."
When the Southern Baptist Convention was established in 1845, Southern Baptists had a clear biblical precedent for cooperating but they lacked an effective method of cooperation, according to Brand and Hankins. Rather than pooling their resources in a central fund bank, individual churches gave to missions and ministry causes as they chose.
This system was partially effective. But unpredictable giving combined with constant appeals for money by Southern Baptist entities prompted Baptists to look for a better method of fund raising, the authors write.
The Cooperative Program was the answer to these difficulties. Beginning in 1925, churches abandoned their old system of giving to individual ministry causes. Instead, they gave money through their state conventions to support Southern Baptist ministries at the state, national, and international levels.
"The Cooperative Program was remarkably simple in principle," the authors write. "Churches were to canvass members for pledged giving for the following year in the fall. Based on those commitments, churches set their own annual budgets. Out of those budgets they would commit a percentage of their total revenue to give to the new Cooperative Program. This financial commitment would stand in the stead of previous special offerings made to individual causes."
In a series of chapters, Brand and Hankins outline the organizational process of the convention and the structure of each convention entity. They also explain how Cooperative Program funds are distributed to each entity. The authors conclude by discussing contemporary issues facing the Cooperative Program and challenges for the future.
The authors indicate that while organizational and theological issues present significant challenges for Southern Baptists, the greatest challenge for the Cooperative Program's future is teaching every Baptist the importance of supporting their church financially. If pastors and leaders can convince their people that giving is imperative, the greatest days of the Cooperative Program are still ahead.
"If Southern Baptists practiced biblical stewardship, it is not guaranteed that the Cooperative Program would receive greater support," they write. "However, if Southern Baptists do not practice biblical stewardship, it is almost guaranteed the Cooperative Program will not thrive."