By David Hankins, Louisiana Baptists Executive Director
ALEXANDRIA (LBM) — I recently met with a group of our Louisiana associational mission strategists (formerly called directors of missions). As I stood before these friends and partners in ministry, knowing it would be the last time I addressed them as a group in my current position, I said, “I believe in the way we Baptists do our work.”
I stand by those words.
During my ministry, which spans 50 years, I’ve studied and observed many models of leadership and organization. While there are strengths in various approaches, none compares to our cooperative model — when we work it, when we actually cooperate.
I am concerned whenever any of us devalue the cooperative model we felt led of the Lord to establish decades ago. I believe this has a ripple effect through almost every area of Baptist life — including baptisms, missions enterprises, Cooperative Program giving, and more. Whenever we minimize our denominational partnerships, sadly, every measurement we use to gauge our progress in fulfilling the Great Commission will trend downward.
So, here is my prayer as I prepare to move into the next season of life and ministry: May Southern Baptists make cooperation great again!
Why do I believe we need to make cooperation great again?
Our cooperative model of missions and ministries is coherent. It makes sense. Cooperation touches every level of Baptist life — the local church, Baptist associations, state conventions, national entities. We believe and we teach we can do more together. God reminds us that “two are better than one.” However, somewhere along the way the weeds of independence have popped up and swayed us to believe we’ll get more done by ourselves. Don’t be misled by this impulse and neglect cooperation.
Another reason for making cooperation great again is consistency. I’ve lived and ministered long enough to observe and understand the cycles of life. Economies fluctuate. Church membership rises and falls. There are seasons when giving is strong and there are seasons when we’re simply trying to keep the lights on and the doors open. Yet somehow cooperation survives, and even thrives, during these cycles. It is consistent.
Eight months after I became the executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention I was introduced to an unwelcomed guest — Hurricane Katrina. I’ll never forget flying over New Orleans with Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, and then-SBC President Bobby Welch.
The devastation was breathtaking and heartbreaking. Yet, even though this was the worst natural disaster to hit our shores, not one missionary had to be recalled from the international fields. Even though literally hundreds of our congregations were affected in Louisiana and across the Gulf Coast, the consistency of cooperation enabled Southern Baptists to stay on mission while picking up the pieces at home.
One final reason why I believe it’s time to make cooperation great again is because it’s comprehensive in nature. Even the arms of our largest congregations can only reach so far. They can only cover so many bases. However, together, our arms reach around the world and, and at same time, into the places where we live and work.
We can undergird the ministries of state conventions who work tirelessly to engage the lost within their borders. We can train and equip those called to ministry through state Baptist universities and SBC seminaries. We can voice our collective concerns to our state and national leaders as we stand for religious liberty. No person, no part of America, and no part of the planet is unreachable when we cooperate.
We need to make cooperation great again because we don’t want to cede more ground. Southern Baptists have had differences to debate. We’ve had issues that needed to be aired. But the crumbling of our culture calls for a new wave of cooperation to push back the powers of darkness and advance God’s Kingdom of love and light.
I believed it 50 years ago and I believe it today: We are better together. As we emphasize Cooperative Program Sunday this month, join me in making cooperation great again!