From my earliest remembrance, I have heard Southern Baptists described as people of The Book, evangelistic and mission-minded. While all of these have been tested—and are being tested now—the heart and direction of our work has been marked by these three characteristics. But there are other churches and denominations who have these same priorities.
For me, the defining mark of Southern Baptists goes a step further. We are a cooperative people. We choose—not by coercion or dictate by a hierarchy—to work together. Our foundational belief, which has been proven true time and again through the ages, is that we can do more together than alone.
Our cooperation is never more evident than in our efforts to reach the world. From the beginning, we have chosen to use a mission board approach rather than an individual church approach. We determined that the best approach was to utilize a mission agency to serve the churches in selecting, preparing and supporting missionaries. The board would use the financial resources and missionaries called out of the churches to go into the world with the Gospel.
To be sure, there are other ways to do missions. I am not condemning them, nor saying they cannot work. Indeed, I give thanks for the multiple para-church ministries engaged in taking the Gospel to the world. I thank God for churches who support missionaries directly. My point is not that these other approaches are not good (any effort to take the Gospel to the world is good), but that the Southern Baptist way is more efficient and effective. In fact, our way is not a para-church way, but church funded and directed.
We give to the Cooperative Program to support ministry and missions from the front door of the church to the ends of the Earth. One of the most significant mission endeavors is our effort in international missions. The sun never sets on the cooperative mission effort of Southern Baptists. Every church, no matter how small and limited in gifts, is a part of a world-wide, multifaceted ministry and mission effort. The Cooperative Program (CP) is the way the church undergirds the world missions task. The CP is foundational to world missions.
In addition, during Christmas, individuals can support the world with the Gospel individually and in a very direct way. Southern Baptists call it the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions (LMCO). One pastor suggested that giving through the CP, utilizing the tithes of the people, is like a salary. Giving by individuals through the LMCO is like a bonus. We, as individuals, can go beyond our regular tithe to directly impact the spread of the Gospel around the world.
This last Sunday, Polla and I had the privilege of placing our LMCO in the offering plate of our home church. We did so with joy. We did so knowing that our gift will help support missionaries serving in places where we cannot know their name or country because of security. In fact, more and more of our missionaries cannot reveal their names for publication so as to protect their identity in nations hostile to Christianity.
The Southern Baptist way requires trust, but it is not blind trust. Budgets and expenditures are scrutinized by boards, and audits are performed every year. Accountability is built into the system in a big way. Behind the board is the accountability to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and, ultimately, the local church.
Utilizing a mission board supported by CP gifts from churches and offerings from individuals is not the only way to do missions. However, it has been blessed of God and has provided the way for the SBC to have the largest mission force among Christian denominations in the world.
For this reason, I challenge you and your family to give generously to the LMCO through your local church. You will touch the world with the Gospel!