Becoming part of the Southern Baptist family, both as a church and as an individual, has been on display in 2015.
In his address to the Executive Committee during its February meeting, SBC President Ronnie Floyd challenged the Convention to invite other churches “to come into our family and cooperate with us to finish the task of advancing the Gospel to every person in the world.”
A few months later, Pastor James MacDonald announced at the SBC Pastors’ Conference in Columbus, Ohio, that Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago had made the commitment to become a cooperating church with the SBC.
On August 16, Barry McCarty, who has served as chief parliamentarian at the SBC annual meeting for twenty-nine successive years, and his wife Pat were baptized into the membership of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia.
The Appeal of Cooperation
In his remarks to the Executive Committee, Floyd observed that there are thousands of churches across the US that affirm the doctrines articulated in The Baptist Faith and Message, admire the SBC’s methods of doing missions across the world, and would be willing to help finance that work.
“What if we begin to call forth churches aggressively and outwardly, ‘Come and be a part of who we are and cooperate in reaching the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ?’” Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in Springdale, Arkansas, asked.
“I believe there are churches all over America who have an interest in becoming a part of our network of churches called Southern Baptists,” he said.
MacDonald, founder of the multi-site Harvest Bible Chapel in the greater Chicago area, prefaced his June 15 announcement by noting he was a “Baptist kid who grew up in Canada” and that he had been ordained there in a Baptist church.
“In our desire to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth and our sense of the way God honors broader partnerships,” he said, “and the fact, frankly, that we’ve been treated like family here [at the Pastors’ Conference] for more than a decade, I’m just thrilled and truly honestly humbled to announce that the board of our church, Harvest Bible Chapel, voted unanimously about a month ago for us to join the Southern Baptist Convention.”
MacDonald’s announcement was greeted with applause and shouts of joy across the convention hall.
Serving sixteen SBC presidents as chief parliamentarian afforded McCarty more platform time at SBC annual meetings than any other individual over a twenty-nine year span and gave him a unique perspective (see his testimony here).
“I immersed myself in the content of The Baptist Faith and Message and grew to love the way it summarized the Christian faith,” he told the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Christian Index.
“I especially appreciated its clear statement on salvation by grace through faith, while also affirming believer’s baptism as the biblical testimony of a saving faith in the work of Christ,” he said.
McCarty cited three primary reasons for his decision to become a Southern Baptist. “First,” he noted, “while Southern Baptists are not a creedal people, they are a confessional people. And at this point in history The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is the best statement of faith I know of.
“Second, right now no one is speaking to our culture on the great moral issues with as much clarity or biblical integrity as Southern Baptists.
“Third, at this point in history no one is doing more to penetrate lostness around the world than Southern Baptists,” he said.
The Meaning of Cooperation
The term “cooperation” has a specialized meaning in Southern Baptist life. It refers to a set of cooperative relationships at the local, state, and national level, creating a synergy among and between sister churches committed to the same broad missional purposes. These ministry statements are spelled out in the SBC Organization Manual.
Southern Baptists value such cooperation as a core commitment, believing it enables churches more effectively to accomplish Kingdom purposes. Using the Acts 1:8 missions mandate, the Southern Baptist family provides a structure for each church to network with other churches locally and regionally to reach their respective “Jerusalems and Judeas” with the Gospel, and with the ministry initiatives of the SBC to reach to out to their “Samarias and the uttermost parts” of the lost world.
A Southern Baptist church is an autonomous Baptist church that . . .
Missionally identifies itself as part of the Southern Baptist fellowship of churches;
Cooperatively affirms its willing cooperation with the Convention’s purposes, missions, ministries, and processes;
Doctrinally embraces the biblical faith and practice with which Southern Baptists do and have historically identified themselves; and
Financially provides regular financial support for the Convention’s work as part of the church’s adopted budget.
Choosing to Cooperate
More than one thousand existing churches have begun to cooperate with the Convention since 2010, according to data provided by the North American Mission Board in the 2015 Book of Reports (see chart below).
Many inquiring churches make their initial contact with the Southern Baptist family through a local Baptist association, a Southern Baptist ethnic or racial fellowship, or a cooperating state Baptist Convention.
Others begin the process of becoming Southern Baptist by contacting the SBC Executive Committee office of Convention communications and relations. Working with associational leaders, state convention staff, and SBC entity staff, this office has produced resources to assist inquiring churches as they pray through becoming openly identified as cooperating Southern Baptist churches. These resources will be posted at SBC.net/BecomingSouthernBaptist on or around October 1.
Three Levels of Cooperation
The vast majority of Southern Baptist churches are part of three independent, but interrelated, sets of ministries—a local Baptist association, a state Baptist convention, and the SBC. This has been true historically; it remains the case in the twenty-first century.
Being a “non-connectional” organization, the SBC recognizes three principles relative to these sets of relationships.
First, the SBC is independent and sovereign in its own sphere, setting its own parameters for participation in its missions and ministries.
Second, each local church is fully independent and autonomous over its own matters, selecting and ordaining its own leaders, establishing its own bylaws and other governing documents, adopting its own budget, and choosing to participate in Convention causes at its own will.
Third, each local Baptist association and state Baptist convention is independent and sovereign in its own sphere and sets its guidelines for local church participation in their respective ministries.
Benefits of Cooperation
The most important benefits of cooperating with the SBC are spiritual and intangible. Scattered across the United States are thousands of like-minded churches and millions of like-minded believers working together to accomplish Kingdom-sized initiatives in missions, evangelism, church planting, education, ethics, and religious liberty. A special synergy and camaraderie exists when local churches band together in a network of high impact ministries at home and abroad.
Further, members of cooperating local churches become part of the leadership pool from which leaders are drawn for multiple facets of Southern Baptist life. They also become the volunteer base for numerous ministries supported by the Convention. Being informed of SBC initiatives, they give of their time, talents, and resources to the various ministry initiatives of the Convention and its entities.
Financial contributions through the Convention’s plan of giving called the Cooperative Program, coupled with special missions offerings, help underwrite the Convention’s missions sending agencies, ministerial training through the Convention’s seminaries, and the godly influence brought to the public square and halls of justice across the nation through the Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
The networking and fellowship of the members of cooperating churches promotes a sense of accomplishment that this national ministering family is making a difference in people’s lives.
Roger S. Oldham is vice president for Convention communications and relations with the SBC Executive Committee, serves as executive editor of SBC LIFE, and is a member of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee.