Will Rogers said "the government takes our taxes to build roads and the Baptists wear them out going to meetings!" If Will Rogers were still alive, I don't think he'd say that today because in many areas of our convention it's getting harder and harder to get people to come out and support our meetings. There are forces pulling us apart.
Turmoil within the Southern Baptist Convention has soured some and kept them from involvement.
Traffic congestion in some places is so intense it actually discourages attendance at various Baptist meetings.
A lack of discretionary time keeps many away. People feel they do not have the time to give to another Baptist meeting. With more mothers working outside the home and family schedules becoming increasingly hectic, many are avoiding our various Baptist gatherings.
The Baby-Boomer's mentality reportedly has anti-establishment feelings that discourage joining a church or making a commitment to an organization. They tend to have less loyalty to their denomination. Many younger people view Baptist work as irrelevant and old-fashioned.
Some mega-churches seem to develop a sense of self-sufficiency that keeps them from involvement with other churches.
These are but a few of the forces that are pulling us in different directions. These factors are making it harder and harder for us to come together for kingdom business. Because of these and other forces some church growth experts are declaring that we are now entering the post-denominational era. While we may not like to hear that prediction, the facts are in the last 30 years leading denominations have experienced membership losses of 20% or more. Lyle Schaller says, "There are 12 to 15 denominations, including many major ones that could easily divide in the coming century."
Maybe that beloved Italian-American Yogi Berra was right, "The future . . . is not what it used to be!"
All this reminds me of a ship sailing across the ocean that came into a horrible storm. The ship sank but fortunately ten survivors made it to a nearby deserted island. There were two Catholics, two Buddhists, two Muslims, two Jews, and two Baptists. After they explored the uninhabited island and found food, water, and shelter they all got busy. The two Catholics got busy and built a cathedral. The two Buddhists got busy and built a temple. The two Muslims got busy and built a mosque. The two Jews got busy and built a synagogue. And the two Baptists got busy . . . one built First Baptist Church and the other built Second Baptist Church!
Like someone said, the only thing any two Baptists can agree on totally is how much the third one ought to give through the Cooperative Program!
Friends, if Baptist cooperation is truly a Biblical concept then we must overcome the forces that seek to destroy us and work together for the advancement of the kingdom of God. Does the Bible really teach that churches of like faith and order should work together? Is there a theology for Baptist Cooperation? Let me give you three statements about cooperation.
I. Mission requires cooperation
In those blessed words known to us as the Great Commission, our Lord Jesus Christ instructed us to "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations." He did not say we are to make disciples among some nations nor among most nations. He said we are to make disciples of all nations. As Baptists we believe we have a worldwide responsibility.
Right now there are 238 countries in the world. I am happy to report to you that Southern Baptists have over 4,000 foreign missionaries serving in 127 countries. Unofficially, we have work going on in 176 nations! Friend, neither your church nor mine is strong enough by itself to sponsor four thousand missionaries in 176 nations! We need each other!
You probably already know that the word "nations" in the Great Commission is the Greek word "ethnos." It's the word we get "ethnic" from, and it means a people group. There are lots of diverse ethnic groups here in the United States. Are you aware that one out of eight United States citizens were not born in this nation?! This is a polyethnic country and it is only going to become more so in the future.
Again, neither your church nor mine is strong enough to do all that by themselves. What am I saying? I'm saying that the Great Commission requires a great cooperation!
Some years ago a magazine carried a series of pictures that graphically depicted a tragic story. The first picture was a vast wheat field is western Kansas. The second picture showed a distressed mother sitting in a farmhouse located in the center of the field of wheat. The accompanying story explained that her four-year-old son had wandered away from the house and into the field when she was not looking. The mother and father looked and looked all day but the little fellow was too short to see or be seen over the wheat. The third picture showed dozens of friends and neighbors who had heard of the boy's plight and who had joined hands the next morning to make a long human chain as they walked through the field searching. The final picture was of the heartbroken father holding the body of his lifeless son who had been found too late and had died of exposure. The caption underneath read, "O God, if only we had joined hands sooner."
The world is full of lost souls who cannot see their way above the distractions and barriers of the world and cannot find their way to the Father's house until Christians join together in search of them.
I say for the sake of the lost we must cooperate. But also for the sake of the Lord we must cooperate.
II. Jesus desires cooperation
On the night of His betrayal, Jesus led the eleven out of Jerusalem and into a profound prayer experience. Somewhere between the Upper Room and Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus stopped and offered His longest recorded prayer. It is the Lord's High Priestly Prayer. You will find it in the seventeenth chapter of John's Gospel. The prayer naturally divides itself into three parts as Jesus prayed for Himself, for His present disciples, and then for all His future followers.
Jesus prayed for us today! What did He ask for? Jesus prayed that we might be one, just as He and the Father are one. This is the theme of His prayer and He mentioned it at least three times during His prayer. He prayed that the unity between Christians might be as strong as the unity between Jesus and His Father.
What does it mean for Christians to be united like the Father and the Son? It means that although we are different persons, we still have the same purpose. The Father and Son are different in person yet they have the same purpose - the redemption of humanity. So when Jesus prayed that we might be one He was expressing His desire that we bond together around a single purpose. This prayer shows us to please the Lord: we must work together for kingdom advancement.
I have two children, Dustin and Kristin. They are very precious . . . most of the time. Sometimes they fight. When they do it really makes me sad. The Lord understands that kind of grief. The disciples had sometimes been selfish and competitive - and this broke the Savior's heart.
I wonder how He feels when He sees the condition of the kingdom today! I'm sure Christ feels deep sorrow as He sees His followers argue, bicker, criticize, and divide. The Bible says the one who sows discord among the brethren is an abomination to the Lord. Disunity is a wicked and disgusting thing in the eyes of the Lord.
Sometimes my son Dustin and my daughter Kristin get along marvelously. When they share, cooperate, and laugh together it creates a wonderful joy in my heart. That is how the Lord feels when Christians cooperate.
It pleased the Lord greatly to see the churches of Macedonia gather a relief offering for the poor saints in Jerusalem. That may have been the beginning of the Cooperative Program. It made God happy to see His churches share with one another.
We can still make Jesus happy today if we will work together for His glory. Remember, He is the Head and we are His body. The body must show care and cooperation among its members. The body must move with coordination. And don't forget a healthy body will never hurt itself. When all parts of Christ's body work together under His leadership it pleases Christ the Head.
III. Synergy inspires cooperation
What is synergy? Synergy or synergism means two things working together creating a greater impact than the sum of their individual parts. To explain synergy in mathematical terms we would say "One plus one equals… three, four, or more."
The Old Testament speaks of synergy and practically defines it in Ecclesiastes 4:9. It says, "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work."
The actual word synergy comes from the New Testament Greek word sunergos. Paul uses the word sunergos several times in his writings to refer to his fellow workers. There were people like Pricilla and Aquilla, Timothy, Titus, Epaphroditus, Philemon, Mark, and Luke, who Paul viewed as his synergizing-partners in ministry. Paul knew that by cooperating with other servants of Jesus Christ he could accomplish more for the kingdom of God than he could on his own. So he called them "my sunergos" or as I like to transliterate and translate it: "my synergizing-partners."
As pastors, we need to learn to see each other as synergizing-partners. Because, just as in Bible times, if God's servants cooperate, they can do more together than they can alone.
Because Southern Baptists have worked together now for over 150 years, we enjoy such things as the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, the Annuity Board, Lifeway Christian Resources, the Woman's Missionary Union, six seminaries, and countless colleges, hospitals, retirement homes, children's homes, and campgrounds. All of this has been possible because God's people have worked together. Imagine what could happen if the Lord delays His coming and Baptists continue to cooperate for another 150 years! The exciting possibilities should inspire us to keep working together.
By-the-way, did you know you can pray more effectively when you team up with others? Jesus said, "If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven" (Matthew 18:19). Oh my friend there is real power in cooperation.
Scientists tell us that geese fly in a "V" formation to reduce wind resistance. As each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in a "V" formation, the whole flock can fly 71% further than if each bird flew on its own. If a goose is smart enough to cooperate, surely we Baptists are smart enough to do the same.
Is there a theology for cooperation? Absolutely! I have suggested three reasons for churches to cooperate.
- Missions Requires It;
- Jesus Desires It; and
- Synergy Inspires It.
But cooperation is more than a doctrine to believe. It is a teaching to obey. And it is not enough that some of our grandparents led their churches to work with other churches. This generation must choose to cooperate. If Baptist cooperation is to continue, today's church leaders must make the commitment to keep it alive. If homosexuals can get together across racial and cultural lines to promote immorality, surely saints can get together to promote the name of Jesus Christ. Let me share with you two ways we as Baptist churches can work together for the advancement of God's kingdom.
Let's continue to give to world missions through the Cooperative Program. The Cooperative Program is not a test of orthodoxy. And the Cooperative Program is not the only way to support Missions. But as Dr. James Sullivan has rightly observed, "the Cooperative Program has more strengths and fewer weaknesses than any plan ever devised." It has worked well for a long time and many of us have benefited from it. Let's continue to support, promote, and defend the Cooperative Program. But giving money is the easiest way to cooperate with other churches.
Let's be involved in non-monetary forms of cooperation. This may involve the traditional avenues of cooperation such as through the Southern Baptist Convention. These are legitimate, honorable, time-proven expressions of cooperation that deserve our participation.
Or if you believe our denomination is changing, then quit waiting for someone else to suggest new denominational designs. Be proactive. Find and set up new models for cooperative kingdom advancement. Through networking, mentoring, prayer chains, and affinity groups there are countless ways we can work together for the glory of God. Now is the time for bright young leaders to influence the future of your convention.
There was a man one day who went to an insane asylum. He went to the mental hospital and all of the patients were out on this open field. There were about five hundred of them. With all these patients on the field there was one guard at an exit gate. The man looked at all these patients who were off mentally and looked at the one guard and meandered over to the guard. He said, "Mister aren't you afraid that one day these people are going to notice there is only one of you here and they are going to overrule and overpower you and break out of here?"
The guard said "No!"
He says, "Wait a minute, you're telling me you're not afraid that these people are going to overpower you? There are 500 of them, and they're not thinking right, aren't you afraid?"
The guard said "No!"
He said, "Why aren't you afraid?"
He said, "Simple, lunatics don't unite."
And it is sheer lunacy as we see the world dying and going to hell for us not to unite and overpower the evil one at the gate!