by Rod D. Martin
May 26, 2017
This year’s Southern Baptist Convention is coming right up, June 11-14. As the Chairman of the Committee on Order of Business, I would like to personally invite you to attend.
It has been a special honor to serve you in this way. I am not a pastor: I’m not sure what part in the Body of Christ best represents pastors – hearts perhaps? heads? – but whatever part it is, I am something else: hopefully a brain cell or even an arm, hopefully not a colon or a toenail. But whatever it is, the Kingdom’s work takes all of us, and God has called all of us, to bring our unique gifts and divergent callings to His altar and His service.
Which is precisely why you should come.
Baptists have several distinctives, but none so unique as our polity and our Cooperative Program. Despite our adherence to the autonomy of the local church, Baptists have long believed that we are better together, pooling resources to do that which we could not do as well alone. In stewardship, we gather in conventions, where we meet and cross-pollinate with our fellow workers, pass resolutions, and elect the officers and trustees of the entities that represent us. This is much of what makes us who we are.
Baptists don’t dictate to their churches: our denominational structure enables our churches and church members to be more of what they want and choose and are called to be. The Cooperative Program enables the benefits of a top-down structure without, well, the top-down part.
The gasoline for that engine is in your offering plate, no doubt. But the engine itself? That’s the folks who serve us in our entities and, above all, those who travel at their own expense, in time and treasure, from across this country to take part in our conventions, committees, boards, and on-the-ground ministries.
It may not be glamorous. It may not be Disneyworld either. But it is kind of grown-up church camp. And it’s absolutely the difference between a single nondenominational church “doing the best it can,” and an army of likeminded believers, 15 million strong, serving Christ’s Kingdom in a whole that’s far greater than the sum of its many parts.
As a non-pastor – as an entrepreneur – that matters to me a lot. I grew up a Baptist and I love Southern Baptists, but the Cooperative Program is why I’m rooted. There are many faithful churches and movements of churches. But what God has assembled here is effective, efficient, directed by its membership, faithful to its Lord.
Consider this. Since 2011, our North American Mission Board has focused its efforts on church planting in areas Baptists have largely neglected in the past. In established Baptist churches, we are baptizing one new believer for every 52 members; in those church plants, one for every 14, not just in the South but everywhere.
My church can plant a church, and should. But my Convention can plant a thousand churches or more, every single year.
That’s adding up, fast. More than 20 percent of the Southern Baptist churches in Iowa, Nevada, California, Maryland, Kansas, Nebraska and Arizona didn’t exist in 2010. That’s also true for 24 percent of our churches in Alaska and New Jersey, 25 percent in Minnesota and Wisconsin, 26 percent in New York, 31 percent in New England, and an incredible 44 percent in Canada.
Roughly one out of every six seminary students on the continent are rigorously and faithfully educated in our six Southern Baptist seminaries (something which most certainly was not true before the Conservative Resurgence). At the rate we’re educating them, we may well be on track toward a preacher glut. And those unemployed yet energetic young pastors are going to have to plant more churches, here and abroad.
Our International Mission Board fields the greatest missionary force on the planet, not merely in numbers but in quality of screening, training and support. Because of the Cooperative Program, they are able to focus on the Gospel and those they seek to serve, not on panhandling the people back home.
And by the way: your Florida Baptist Convention sends $51 of every $100 it receives to support all this, with plans to move rapidly toward $55, and not an ounce of fat here at home. We are far out front, setting an example for the rest of the SBC, one in which our people can take honest heartfelt joy.
That’s why I, a layman, am a Southern Baptist. I don’t want God’s resources diluted through a thousand divisive efforts, I don’t want my tithe dollars wasted on duplicative bureaucracy. I want everything I can make and everything I can do to count: to count for the Gospel, to count for our neighbors, to count for our Father.
I know others disagree. I know some of our pastors question the value of what God has here assembled. But I think they’d feel differently if they came and saw what I’ve seen. And if not, I know I could not support such a short-sighted ministry. And I would not.
The Body of Christ is messy. Sometimes the sausage-making is rough and tumble. But that’s a blessing, not a curse. It means we rule ourselves under Christ, and are not ruled by a pope, an archbishop or a king. Grown-ups participate in that self-rule, in church, in civic life, in all of life. It is an honor and a privilege to steward our Master’s house.
If you want to learn about, take part in, even have a say over your tithe money and our collective mission, of sound seminary education, ever-increasing evangelistic outreach, quality discipleship training and publications, provision for our retired church leaders, widows and orphans, and indeed the very future of who we are and what we stand for, there is no better place to do so than at the Southern Baptist Convention, every year and also this year in Phoenix.
Come help us commission a new group of foreign missionaries. Come hear how your tithe dollars are being spent, and question even elect those who spend it. Come help us choose our President. Come hear some of the finest preaching of your life, with some of the finest people I’ve ever known.
But come. Come and take part in the Body of Christ, at a whole new, vital and defining level.
It will change your life, if you let it. It certainly has mine.
This article was originally published as part of my “Beyond the Church Door” series in the Florida Baptist Witness.
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